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Expand chart
Data: Baker Hughes; Chart: Axios Visuals

There are fresh signs that U.S. oilfield activity is increasing alongside the return of demand and higher prices, but don't look for a return of record pre-pandemic production soon — or maybe ever.

Driving the news: The number of active U.S. oil rigs rose again last week, per the oilfield services company Baker Hughes' rolling tally.

Why it matters: It's the latest increase since COVID-19 significantly lowered oil consumption and prices cratered last year. The rig count is a rough proxy for the future output trajectory.

Yes, but: Reuters' coverage notes that most producers are "focusing on capital discipline and investor returns, rather than expanding supply."

  • If that holds, it's a reversal of years when they emphasized output above profit and shareholder rewards.
  • World-leading U.S. production reached a new record of nearly 13 million barrels per day at the end of 2019, but companies piled up lots of debt along the way.

The big picture: A recent Bloomberg story explored the new dynamic.

  • "After years of booms and busts that produced astronomical losses along with a whole lot of oil, the fracking industry seems to have found a sweet spot," it reports.
  • One data point in the piece is that the sector is estimated to generate $30 billion in free cash flow this year.
  • "[S]hale is entering a new, better era, with higher profitability," analyst Elisabeth Murphy of ESAI Energy LLC told Bloomberg.

What we're watching: The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that domestic production will average 11.1 million barrels per day (bpd) this year and 11.8 million bpd in 2022. But those estimates issued monthly often change as analysts chase a moving target.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Sep 20, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Shell to sell Permian assets to ConocoPhillips in major shale deal

Photo: Chet Strange/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Royal Dutch Shell is selling its assets in the prolific Permian Basin shale oil-and-gas basin in Texas to ConocoPhillips for $9.5 billion.

Why it matters: Monday's announcement latest of several big deals in the U.S. oil sector that are bringing consolidation to the shale sector.

Updated 28 mins ago - Technology

Pandemic gave cover to online dating scams

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Crooked Casanovas used online dating scams to steal an estimated $500 million from lonely victims last year, according to a new analysis of government fraud data by Atlas VPN, an internet security provider.

Why it matters: The isolation of the lingering pandemic provided cover to fraudulent suitors who had an excuse for not meeting up in person even as they fleeced their would-be lovers out of gift cards, money — even cryptocurrency.

Updated 36 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — New York Supreme Court grants stay for indoor mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker