US drilling activity continues to outpace rest of the world

Published: Monday, 03 July 2017

The boom in US oilfield activity is not being matched by oil producers in other markets, the latest Baker Hughes rig numbers show.

The divergence in fortunes between the oil and gas sector in North America and rest of the world is growing starker, as Middle Eastern drilling stagnates even as rig counts in the US soar.

In its May survey of international rig numbers, oilfield services group Baker Hughes saw the world rig count, excluding North America, at 957.

This leaves the total of active rigs, a proxy for oilfield activity and of demand for oilfield minerals, up by one rig from last month and only two from the same time last year.

The number of active rigs is flat in the Middle East, up by two in Latin America, and down by seven in Africa.

In North America, by contrast, the number of active rigs has soared, reflecting the fact that US producers are much more able to ramp up production, even only a slight increase in oil prices.

But benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil slipped below the $50/barrel mark at the beginning of June, which a number of oilfield service companies have identified as a key price point to make US production profitable.

Oilfield activity is a key driver for demand of a number of minerals, including barytes (barite), bentonite, and frac sand, although the pickup in demand for some of those minerals has lagged.
A US barytes producer and trader told IM that some of the new activity involves returning to mothballed projects, meaning that less of the weighting agent is needed than on a fresh project.
And a bentonite producer told IM that many operators are currently favouring oil-based muds, rather than water-based, reducing demand for the clay.