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U.S. drillers add oil and gas rigs for record 21 months a row

April 29 (Reuters) – U.S. energy firms last week added oil and natural gas rigs for a record 21 months in a row as high prices and prodding by the federal government prompted some drillers to return to the wellpad.

The oil and gas rig count, an early indicator of future output, rose three to 698 the week to April 29, its highest since March 2020, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said in its closely followed report on Friday. , ,

Baker Hughes said that puts the total rig count up 258, or 59%, over this time last year.

For the month, drillers added 28 oil and gas rigs.

U.S. oil rigs rose three to 552 this week, their highest since April 2020, and were up 21 in April, its 20th consecutive monthly increase. The last record was for 20 straight months in January 2011.

Gas rigs were unchanged at 144 this week and rose seven for the month.

Even though the combined rig count has climbed for a record 21 months, weekly increases have mostly been in single digits and oil production is still far below pre-pandemic record levels as many companies focus more on returning money to investors and paying down debt rather than boosting output.

Since Moscow invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the U.S. government has asked drillers to produce more oil and gas to reduce domestic prices and help allies break their dependence on Russia energy.

The top U.S. producers Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Chevron Corp (CVX.N) on Friday said they were boosting share buybacks. Chief Executive Darren Woods said Exxon did not plan on changing its drilling strategy based on what it said was “high short term demand.” read more

“Chevron is doing its part to grow domestic supply,” CEO Executive Mike Wirth said in an earnings release.

U.S. crude production was on track to rise from 11.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2021 to 12.0 million bpd in 2022 and 13.0 million bpd in 2023, according to federal energy data. That compares with a record 12.3 million bpd in 2019.