Nearly all new U.S. crude oil and natural gas wells are horizontal or directional, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The EIA recently released data that provides information on crude oil and natural gas well completions and drilled footage of U.S. wells completed since 2010.
In 2021, 81% of U.S. well completions were horizontal or directional. Only 19% of wells were drilled vertically. Horizontal and directional wells are initially drilled vertically, but at a certain depth, the drilling path bends away from the vertical well.
Between 2010 and 2021, the total number of crude oil and natural gas wells completed in the United States declined by 66%, while the total footage or drilling length declined by 30%. Over the same period, U.S. crude oil production has more than doubled, and U.S. gross withdrawals of natural gas have risen by 55%.
As horizontal and directional wells have become more common, the average footage of wells drilled has more than doubled from 7,300 feet per well in 2010 to 15,200 feet per well in 2021. Horizontal and directional wells are longer than vertical wells. This allows them to reach more geologic formations that contain crude oil and natural gas, which contributes to increased well productivity.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, global demand for petroleum fuels declined, and 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 wells, fell to a low of 250 in August 2020. This was the fewest in Baker Hughes monthly rig count data, which started being published in 1973.
Since August 2020, the number of rigs operating in the United States has risen each month. As of February 2022, there were 636 operating rigs. According to Baker Hughes data, the number of operating rigs declined from nearly 2,000 in 2012 to about 1,000 in 2019.