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Today in Energy

February 3, 2020

U.S. crude oil and natural gas production increased in 2018, with 10% fewer wells

U.S. oil and natural gas wells and crude oil production
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Wells by Production Rate
Note: Annual production estimates shown here are based on data from Enverus Drillinginfo and may differ from official estimates published in EIA’s Petroleum Supply Annual 2018 and Natural Gas Annual 2018.

Updated February 5 to add natural gas production in barrels of oil equivalent to the first figure.

In 2018, while production was increasing, the total number of wells producing crude oil and natural gas in the United States fell to 982,000, down from a peak of 1,035,000 wells in 2014. This increase in production, despite the decline in the number of wells, reflects advances in technology and drilling techniques. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s updated U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Wells by Production Rate report shows how daily production rates of individual wells by state contributed to an increase in total crude oil and natural gas production in 2018.

Wells classified as non-horizontal in the report—most of which are vertical wells—have decreased 10% from 935,000 in 2014 to 842,000 in 2018. Horizontal wells are relatively less common, but they are growing as a share of the total; the 99,000 horizontal wells producing in 2014 accounted for 10% of the total. In 2018, 140,000 horizontal wells accounted for 14% of total producing wells.

Although horizontal wells are more expensive to drill than vertical wells, they contact more reservoir rock and therefore produce greater volumes. Only 1% of vertical wells produced at least 100 barrels per day of crude oil in 2018, but 32% of horizontal wells produced at least 100 barrels per day. As horizontal wells became more common, production growth continued as the well count fell.

U.S. oil and natural gas wells by drilling orientation
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Wells by Production Rate
Note: Non-horizontal wells include vertical and deviated wells and wells whose type is unknown.

Even with fewer wells, U.S. oil production grew from 8.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2014 to 10.8 million b/d in 2018. During that same period, U.S. natural gas production (gross withdrawals) increased from about 78.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) to 94.8 Bcf/d. Since 2019, crude oil and natural gas production has continued to grow. In November 2019, crude oil production had increased to about 12.9 million b/d and natural gas production had increased to 116.9 Bcf/d.

In its report, EIA groups wells into 26 production volume brackets, ranging from less than one barrel of oil equivalent per day (BOE/d) to more than 12,800 BOE/d. Most U.S. oil and natural gas production comes from wells producing between 50 BOE/d and 1,600 BOE/d. In 2018, wells within this range accounted for 9% of active wells that produced 66% of crude oil production and 62% of natural gas production.

distribution of oil and natural gas wells

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Wells by Production Rate

distribution of oil and natural gas wells

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Wells by Production Rate

distribution of oil and natural gas wells

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Wells by Production Rate

Principal contributors: Jack Perrin, Kristen Tsai