BISMARCK, N.D., March 21 (UPI) -- As crude oil prices hold relatively stable, North Dakota, the No. 2 oil producer in the nation, saw its rig count hold steady from last week, state data show.
The state government reports 32 rigs engaged in exploration and production activities in the state, unchanged from last week, but 71 percent lower than this time last year.
Rig counts serve as a barometer for the health of the energy sector. Crude oil prices are down about 15 percent from last year and more than 60 percent below levels two years ago. Slumping oil prices means energy companies have less capital to invest in exploration and production and North Dakota's rig count is down 83 percent from this date in 2014.
Rig counts were in the single digits in the 1980s and exploded to more than 200 in 2012. The all-time low point is zero.
Crude oil prices have stabilized in March, after twice dropping below $30 per barrel earlier this year. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark price for crude oil, is up more than 5 percent from last week.
Oil field services company Baker Hughes showed the total U.S. rig count fell slightly from the week ending March 11. Texas, the top oil producer in the nation, gained two rigs.
State data from North Dakota show crude oil production in January, the last full month for which data are available, was 1.12 million barrels per day, a 2.6 percent decline from December and 8 percent lower than the all-time high recorded in December 2014.
The shale-rich state started 2016 with 60 rigs in active service.