March 13 (UPI) -- There were twice as many oil and natural gas discoveries recorded in Texas in February than during the previous month, a state regulator reported.
The Railroad Commission of Texas stated that, as of March 10, the total state-wide rig count of 392 represented slightly more than half of all the activity in the country. Rig counts serve as a loose barometer to gauge industry confidence in a particular region.
Oil prices have improved to the point that companies are spending more on exploration and production. The commission, the state's energy regulator, said it issued 991 original drilling permits in February, up from the 573 reported last year.
There were two oil discoveries and two natural discoveries made in the state last month, compared with one each from January. Nevertheless, the commission reported a preliminary production rate for crude oil of 74.2 million barrels for all of December, the last full month for which it published data, down from the 76.7 million barrels reported for the previous month.
Texas is the No. 1 oil producer in the country and saw its economy come under pressure from a market downturn last year characterized by historically low crude oil prices. Karr Ingham, an economist at the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, said the basic components of market recovery are evident, the price for oil and gas has improved, exploration and production activity is gaining, but other measures like total production and employment are still lower than they were a year ago.
Housing affordability is also an issue, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Median household income in the five years ending in 2015 increased 14 percent, while existing-home sale prices rose 34 percent during the same period.
"Declining housing affordability in the state has eroded the cost-of-living advantage, calling into question whether Texas can maintain its long-term economic and population growth that has often led the nation," economist Laila Assanie said in a statement.