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Natural gas prices continued their precipitous drop at the end of 2011, falling below $3/Mcf and sliding further as the new year began. Warmer-than-normal temperatures in the U.S. offset somewhat greater gas demand. Oil prices climbed $4-5/bbl in early January as the EU ban on Iranian oil imports grew near, combining with threats by Tehran to close the Strait of Hormuz to keep pressure on prices. In the U.S., the rotary rig count slackened slightly at year-end, but still came in 17% higher than the same month a year ago, averaging just over 2,000 rigs. Offshore rigs in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico have nearly doubled since December 2010 to 42.
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