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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.

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Pelosi says it's her "plan" to appoint GOP Rep. Kinzinger to Jan. 6 committee

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday that it is her "plan" to appoint Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to the House select committee investigating the deadly Jan 6. Capitol riots.

Why it matters: Pelosi's statement to ABC's "This Week" comes after she rejected two of the five Republican appointments offered by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

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Bezos beats Branson in space billionaires' battle for attention

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Imtiyaz Shaikh (Anadolu Agency), Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos' flight into space generated more interest from the public than Richard Branson's, and both billionaires overshadowed their respective space companies.

Why it matters: Data shows an outsized public interest in the personalities at the center of the space trips, compared to the companies behind them — which could reinforce public suspicion that the ventures were partly vanity plays.