April 17 (Reuters) - The fall in the number of U.S. rigs drilling for oil slowed this week, data showed on Friday, although the number of active rigs has fallen for a record 19 weeks in a row to the lowest level since 2010, according to Baker Hughes data going back to 1987.
The slower fall may however suggest the collapse in drilling could be coming to an end, after slumping oil prices caused energy companies to idle half of the country’s rigs since October.
The oil rig count fell by 26 this week to 734 after the loss of 42 and 11 rigs in the prior two weeks respectively, Baker Hughes Inc said.
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.
On Friday, Schlumberger NV, the world’s biggest drilling services provider, said it would eliminate another 11,000 jobs in addition to the 9,000 cuts it announced in January.
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 coming months.
U.S. crude futures this week climbed to over $57 a barrel, the highest level this year, rebounding about 35 percent from a six-year low near $42 set in mid March, in part on expectations the lower rig count will start reducing U.S. oil output.
After rising mostly steadily since 2008, U.S. oil production has stalled near 9.4 million barrels a day since early March, the most since the early 1970s, according to government data. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Chris Reese)