While the number of natural gas wells completions fell significantly last year compared with 2008, natural gas remained the primary target for domestic drilling in 2009, according to the American Petroleum Institute's (API) latest estimates.

The number of gas well completions plunged 42% to 18,269 wells last year, the producer group reported. Rocky Mountain gas drilling last year also plummeted (see related story). And while natural gas drilling remained at the forefront last year and in the fourth quarter, the gap between oil and gas drilling narrowed somewhat in 2009. The number of oil wells completed in 2009 fell 35% to 16,108, compared with 24,646 wells in 2008, the API said.

The number of domestic oil and gas wells and dry holes completed last year -- 39,068 -- was 37% lower than 2008, but fourth quarter totals of 10,609 completions were 19% higher than the third quarter, which in turn had been up 6% from the second quarter, API noted.

For the year, the producer group estimated that the number of exploratory oil and gas wells fell by half to 1,887, while the number of full-year development oil and gas wells slid 38% to 32,490.

And for the fourth quarter, exploratory oil and gas wells fell 58% to 411 from the same quarter in 2008, while the number of development wells dropped 35% to 8,911 compared with the fourth period in 2008, according to API.

The reported total footage drilled was 234,982,000 for 2009, a 44% drop from the prior year. Fourth quarter footage stood at 57,566 feet, 51% less than the same period in 2008, API said.

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