The data series recently added to our Monthly Energy Review (MER) provide information on crude oil and natural gas well completions and drilled footage for U.S. wells completed since 2010. In 2021, 81% of U.S. well completions were horizontal or directional, as opposed to 19% of wells that were drilled vertically. Horizontal and directional wells involve drilling a vertical well and then, at a certain depth, bending the path of the drilling away from the vertical well. Although the total number of crude oil and natural gas wells completed in the United States declined by 66% between 2010 and 2021, and total footage (drilling length) has fallen by 30%, U.S. crude oil production has more than doubled, and U.S. gross withdrawals of natural gas have increased 55%.
As horizontal and directional wells have become more common in the United States, the average footage of wells drilled has more than doubled from 7,300 feet per well to 15,200 feet per well between 2010 and 2021. Horizontal and directional wells are longer than vertical wells, allowing them to access more geologic formations that contain crude oil and natural gas, which increases those wells’ productivity.
As global demand for petroleum fuels declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, drilling operators developed fewer new crude oil and natural gas wells. The average number of U.S. rotary rigs, which are used to drill new crude oil and natural gas wells, decreased to a low of 250 rigs in August 2020, the fewest in Baker Hughes monthly rig count data, which we publish history of starting in 1973. The number of operating rotary rigs has increased in each month since then and most recently reached 636 operating rotary rigs in February 2022.
Principal contributor: Brett Marohl