UPDATE 1-U.S. oil rig count decline quickened this week -Baker Hughes
(Adds basin, state data) April 24 (Reuters) - The fall in U.S. rigs drilling for oil quickened a bit this week, data showed on Friday, suggesting a recent slowdown in the decline in drilling was temporary, after slumping oil prices caused energy companies to idle half the country's rigs since October. Drillers idled 31 oil rigs this week, leaving 703 rigs active, after taking 26 and 42 rigs out of service in the previous two weeks, oil services firm Baker Hughes Inc said in its closely watched report. With the oil rig decline this week, the number of active rigs has fallen for a record 20 weeks in a row to the lowest since 2010, according to Baker Hughes data going back to 1987. Since the number of oil rigs peaked at 1,609 in October, energy producers have responded quickly to the steep 60 percent drop in oil prices since last summer by cutting spending, eliminating jobs and idling rigs. After its precipitous drop since October, the U.S. oil rig count is nearing a pivotal level that experts say could dent production, bolster prices and even coax oil companies back to the well pad in the coming months. Pioneer Natural Resources Co, a top oil producer in the Permian Basin of West Texas, said this week it will start adding rigs in June as long as market conditions are favorable. U.S. crude futures this week climbed to over $58 a barrel, the highest level this year, as a Saudi-led coalition continued bombings in Yemen. That was up 38 percent from a six-year low near $42 set in mid March on oversupply concerns and lackluster demand, in part on expectations the lower rig count will start reducing U.S. oil output. After rising mostly steadily since 2009, U.S. oil production has stalled near 9.4 million barrels a day since early March, the highest level since the early 1970s, according to government data. The Permian Basin in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, the nation's biggest and fastest-growing shale oil basin, lost the most oil rigs, down 13 to 242, the lowest on record, according to data going back to 2011. Texas was the state with the biggest rig decline, down 19 to 392, the least since 2009. In Canada, active oil rigs fell by four to 16, the lowest since 2009. U.S. natural gas rigs, meanwhile, climbed by eight to 225, the same as two weeks ago. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama; and Peter Galloway)
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