By Velda Addison, Hart Energy

The sounds of operators warming up to increase activity and spending in some U.S. shale plays is likely music to the ears for oil and gas workers who lost their jobs due to the oversupply-driven downturn.

Recently released figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that the impact on the oil and gas production employment has been horrific. Citing the latest available job data, the EIA said the industry lost more than 142,000 jobs through May 2016. That is a 26% drop from the October 2014 high of 538,000 oil and gas production jobs.

The EIA pointed out that the figure, mostly extraction and support activities-related work, is almost triple the 51,000 jobs lost during a 13-month period during the 2008-2009 recession.

Not even the gradual rise in crude oil prices, which slowly rebounded from lows in the upper $20s per barrel (/bbl) in January, prompted oil and gas companies to consider increasing activity until fairly recently. The price for a barrel of WTI crude was trading at just under $42/bbl on Aug. 11, but it had reached the $50/bbl mark earlier this summer as supply outages—most notably in Canada and Nigeria—impacted global production.

However, the shrinking workforce was not accompanied by double-digit production losses in the U.S., where advances in drilling technology and other techniques have led to efficiency gains.

“The effects of the reduction in drilling and employment in crude oil and natural gas production have been relatively modest, with production levels in May down 6% and 1%, respectively, relative to their level in May 2015,” the EIA said in its report. “Compared to October 2014, the peak month for employment in the sector, May 2016 crude oil production was 2% lower, while natural gas production was flat.”

Both oil- and natural gas-directed rig counts also fell during that time, hitting a weekly low of 404 in May from nearly 1,800 rigs in the fall 2014, the EIA said.

However, in recent weeks, the rig count has been increasing.

U.S. drillers added seven oil rigs in the week ending Aug. 5, bringing the total rig count up to 381, compared with 670 a year ago, according to Baker Hughes Inc.’s latest rig count report.

They have added a total of 51 rigs since the week to July 1, the longest streak of weekly additions since July-August 2015, when 37 rigs were added over six weeks, Reuters reported.

The total U.S. rig count increased by one this week to 464, while the Canadian rig count grew by three to 122. In all, the number of rigs pumping in North America ended the week at 586, up four from last week.

Recent price declines over the past several weeks, however, have not stopped companies from planning to add more rigs over the next several months in to next year.

In an analysts note, Cowen & Co. noted several companies, including Apache Corp., Chesapeake Energy Corp., Cimarex Energy Co. and Marathon Oil Corp., announced plans in the past week to add rigs.

It is good to hear that crews may be going back to work, but the verdict is still out on what such moves could mean for the industry, production levels and commodity prices in the future.

Velda Addison can be reached at