U.S. energy firms this week added oil and natural gas rigs for a fourth week in a row for the first time since November 2022, energy services firm Baker Hughes said in its closely followed report on Dec. 8.

The oil and gas rig count, an early indicator of future output, rose by one to 626 in the week to Dec. 8, its highest since September. 

Despite this week's rig increase, Baker Hughes said the total count was still down 154, or 20%, below this time last year.

The rig count has dropped from the post-pandemic high of 784 a year ago due to lower oil and gas prices. Capital spending has also gone to cover inflation-related costs for labor and equipment as many firms focus on returning money to investors and paying down debt rather than boosting production.

U.S. oil rigs fell two to 503 this week, while gas rigs rose three to 119, their highest since September, Baker Hughes said.

Data provider Enverus, which publishes its own rig count data, said drillers cut 15 rigs in the week ended Dec. 6, cutting the total to 678. That put the overall count down about 3% in the last month and down 23% year-over-year.

U.S. oil futures were down about 12% so far this year after gaining 7% in 2022. U.S. gas futures, meanwhile, have plunged about 42% so far this year after rising about 20% last year.

Exxon Mobil, the top U.S. oil and gas producer which increased capital expenditure over the past two years, plans to keep it below pre-pandemic levels. It said this week it will target annual project spending of between $22 billion and $27 billion through 2027, largely continuing existing spending and production goals.

Fourteen of the independent exploration and production companies tracked by U.S. financial services firm TD Cowen said they planned to cut spending by around 4% in 2024 versus 2023.

TD Cowen said 25 of the E&Ps it tracks said they planned to boost spending by around 20% in 2023 versus 2022 after increasing spending about 40% in 2022 and 4% in 2021.