U.S. Drilling Activity Jumps 19% in Fourth Quarter, 15% for 2008

Drilling activity in the U.S. exploration and production industry continued on a steady climb at twice the level of activity in the 1990s, according to API's fourth quarter 2008 drilling estimates. According to API’s 2008 Quarterly Well Completion Report: Fourth Quarter, an estimated 16,451 oil wells, natural gas wells and dry holes were completed in the fourth quarter of 2008, up 19 percent from 2007’s fourth quarter.

For full-year 2008, total estimated well completions and their accompanying footage drilled increased 15 and 24 percent, respectively, compared with 2007. Total estimated oil well completions and footage drilled in 2008 increased 35 and 42 percent, respectively, while total estimated gas well completions and footage drilled in 2008 increased 4 and 18 percent, respectively, over 2007.

"Last year was a record year for drilling, with significant increases in total wells and particularly oil wells, which increased 35 percent over a year ago," said Hazem Arafa, director of API's statistics department. "But we are already seeing the warning signs that the trend toward increased drilling is slowing. For example, for the fourth quarter of 2008 we saw the number of oil exploratory wells slide 27 percent, as the economy faltered and oil prices plummeted."

While the number of oil exploratory well completions dropped in the fourth quarter, overall oil well completions totaled 6,442, a 43 percent increase from 2007's fourth quarter and the highest fourth quarter estimated oil activity in two decades. Oil development well activity, which surged 48 percent during the quarter, from 4,204 to 6,219, accounted for the increase.

Natural gas continues to be the primary target for domestic drilling, with an estimated 8,267 natural gas wells completed in the fourth quarter of 2008. That was up 6 percent from 2007's fourth quarter and over double the natural gas drilling activity of a decade ago.

API also reported total estimated footage of 114,028,000 feet drilled in the fourth quarter of 2008, a 29 percent increase from fourth quarter 2007 and the highest estimated fourth quarter footage drilled ever. Estimated oil well footage drilled was up 61 percent from 2007's fourth quarter.