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US drilling activity climbs at yearend

US drilling operations ended the year with a burst of activity, despite ice storms that lashed North Texas, Oklahoma and other areas of the Midwest, impeding travel.

Officials at Baker Hughes Inc. reported 1,114 rotary rigs working in the US and its waters during the last full week of the year. That�s 27 more than the previous week and up from 771 during the same period a year ago.

Texas was the leader with 421 rigs working, 11 more than the previous week. Rig counts in other states included Louisiana, 217, up three; Oklahoma, 140, up six; and New Mexico, 75, up eight. There were 49 rigs working in Wyoming, four less than the previous week.

Canada�s total rig count fell to 322, down 134 from the previous week but up from 296 a year ago.

Offshore Data Services said the number of mobile offshore rigs under contract remained unchanged in all major markets during the final week of the year.

That included 177 rigs under contract in the Gulf of Mexico out of an available fleet of 207 for an utilization rate of 85.5%. In European waters, 88 rigs had contracts out of a total 101, putting utilization at 87.1.

Worldwide, there were 558 mobile offshore rigs under contract out of a total fleet of 647 for a global utilization rate of 86.2%.

However, the US Minerals Management Service said the number of rigs drilling in the deep waters of the gulf hit a record high of 40 this week.

�Just last year, there were only 26 rigs working in the deepwater portion of the Gulf of Mexico. But that number continued to rise, making 2000 a record-setting year,� said MMS Director Walt Rosenbusch.

The MMS defines deep water as 1,000 ft or more. Of the 40 deepwater wells now being drilled in the gulf, officials said, 33 are in depths of 1,500 ft or greater.

�The number of wells being drilled in the so-called ultradeep water�5,000 ft or greater�continues to grow,� Rosenbusch said. �Currently there are seven wells being drilled in water depths of 5,000 ft or greater; three in excess of 7,500 ft.�

That ultradeep activity includes three wells being drilled by BP as operator at depths of 5,180 ft, 6,386 ft, and 6,627 ft, said MMS officials. Unocal Corp. is operator on another well being drilled in 7,044 ft of water.

Shell Offshore Inc. is operator on a fifth well in 7,760 ft, while Elf Exploration Inc. is drilling a well in 7,790 ft of water.

The deepest current operation in the gulf is a well being drilled in 8,835 ft of water by BHP Petroleum Pty. Ltd., MMS officials said.

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