U.S. oil drillers laid down the most rigs in the fourth quarter since 2009. And things are about to get much worse.
The rig count fell by 93 in the three months through Dec. 26, and lost another 17 last week, Baker Hughes Inc data show. About 200 more will be idled over the next quarter as U.S. oil explorers make good on their promises to curb spending, according to Moody’s Corp.
Drillers are already running the fewest rigs in nine months after a 46 percent drop in U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil in 2014, the steepest decline in six years and the second-worst since the commodity began trading in 1983. The price slipped below $50 a barrel yesterday as U.S. producers and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries remain in a standoff over market share. Meanwhile, production from Russia and Iraq last month reached the highest level in decades.
“At $50 oil, half the U.S. rig count is at risk,” R.T. Dukes, an upstream analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd., said by telephone from Houston. “What happened in the last quarter foreshadows what’s going to be a tough year for operators. It’s looking worse and worse by the day.”
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