BISMARCK, N.D., May 31 (UPI) -- North Dakota saw the number of rigs actively exploring for or producing oil and gas increase by more than 10 percent from last week, state data show.
Data from the state government show 28 rigs in service early Tuesday, up 16 percent from last week. The increase follows a slow march toward $50 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of crude oil. WTI is up about 4 percent from last week.
Crude oil prices are still about 50 percent lower than they were two years ago, leaving energy companies with less capital to invest in exploration and production. Oil services company Baker Hughes reported no change last week in the total U.S. rig count. Year-on-year, however, the total U.S. rig count is 53 percent lower than it was for the same week in 2015. For North Dakota, the rig count for Tuesday is off by 65 percent from this date last year.
North Dakota, home to the Bakken shale oil reserve, last week broke a record low for rig counts set in July 2005 with 25 in service. The all-time low point for rigs in North Dakota is zero.
Rig counts serve as a loose barometer for the health of the oil and gas industry, which has been bruised by weak economics. Hess Corp., one of the more active players in North Dakota, said its first quarter spending on exploration and production was $544 million, down nevertheless 56 percent year-on-year.
Lynn Helms, the director of the state's oil and gas division, said energy companies working in the state are committed to running only a small number of rigs.
State data show oil production in March, the last full month for which figures are available, at 1.11 million barrels per day, a decline of about 1 percent from February. Natural gas production, however, reached an all-time high for the state last month at 1.7 million cubic feet per day.