United States: U.S. drilling ///

Last year saw good drilling levels, at least that's what the numbers indicated. However, despite the fact that global rig activity rose nearly 13% in 2003, the general industry attitude for much of the year was like the half-empty glass. Operators were enjoying high oil and gas prices, but seemed to be anticipating something bad. We were no exception. Based on industry's mind-set and tepid results of our midyear survey of operators' drilling plans, World Oil lowered its forecast for 2003 in August. This year will be better, since oil and gas prices are holding at high levels, even after things settled down in Venezuela and Iraq. Further, there is good reason to believe that Iraq will not become a significant player in 2003. As we predicted a year ago, oil inventories in the developed countries remained low throughout 2003, staying near the previous five-year average minimum level. The US Energy Information Agency predicts that stocks will linger near this minimum through 2005. Recent US demand gains, plus growth from China and other non-OECD countries, should keep the demand curve moving upward. However, there is a possibility that should energy prices get too high, they could thwart the “jobless recovery” in the US economy. Although OPEC continues to hold the trump card for supply, if operators are not yet convinced that oil and gas prices are truly demand-related rather than emotionally driven, they likely never will be.

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