- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

HOUSTON (AP) - The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the United States fell by 30 this week to 975, down nearly half from a year ago.

Of the rigs running nationwide, 760 were exploring for natural gas and 205 for oil, Houston-based Baker Hughes Inc. reported Friday. A total of 10 were listed as miscellaneous.

A year ago, the rig count stood at 1,827. The U.S. count is down 52 percent since the end of August as weak energy demand has hampered oil-field activity.

Oil prices peaked at almost $150 a barrel in July before plunging. Light, sweet crude for May delivery rose 54 cents to $50.52 a barrel in trading Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Oklahoma lost 11 rigs, Texas lost 10, Arkansas and New Mexico each lost three, Alaska lost two and North Dakota dropped one. Colorado added two rigs and California, Louisiana and Wyoming were unchanged.

Baker Hughes has tracked rig counts since 1944. The tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981, during the height of the oil boom. The industry posted several record lows in 1999, bottoming out at 488.

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