More natural gas rigs are now operating in the United States than before the pandemic
U.S. natural gas producers are operating more drilling rigs now than at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Before the pandemic, the number of operating rigs in the United States had generally been declining. On January 31, 2020—when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services first declared a public health emergency related to COVID-19—the Baker Hughes Company reported that 112 natural gas rigs were operating in the United States. The number of natural gas-directed rigs continued to fall in the first half of 2020, reaching a low of 68 rigs on July 24, 2020, the fewest in Baker Hughes’s historical data, dating back to 1987. Since then, the natural gas rig count has generally been increasing, returning to pre-pandemic levels in January 2022. On September 9, Baker Hughes reported that 166 natural gas rigs were operating in the United States, 54 more than at the outset of the pandemic in the United States.
As natural gas drilling increases in the United States, we expect that production will grow as well. Our September Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) estimates that dry natural gas production averaged 97.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in the United States during August 2022. We expect U.S. dry natural gas production to increase throughout the STEO forecast period (2022–23), averaging 100.5 Bcf/d during December 2023.
Our Drilling Productivity Report (DPR) measures historical natural gas production in selected onshore regions, including the Appalachia, Haynesville, and Permian regions, where most of the natural gas activity is concentrated. To develop estimates of overall changes in production for each region, the DPR uses recent rig activity data, but it also explicitly considers:
- Recent information on rig productivity
- Average oil and natural gas production rates from new wells during their first full month of operation
- Estimated changes in production from existing wells