Published on Friday, July 1, 2011 by ProPublica
by Nicholas Kusnetz
Energy companies have spent the last couple of years fighting off added government regulation, saying red tape is slowing development.
But recent data show that the pace of drilling is just short of the 20-year high it reached before the recession. Gas drilling has dropped off as the price of natural gas has stayed low, but high oil prices (and the widening price gap between oil and gas) have spurred enough oil drilling to more than make up the difference.
There were 1,882 rigs drilling wells around the country last week, up 21 percent from a year ago and up more than 50 percent from the beginning of 2010. There are now more rigs drilling for oil than at any time since 1987, according to Bloomberg News.
The numbers show that when prices are right, changes in policy or regulation are unlikely to stand in the way of new drilling, analysts and regulators say.
“I don’t think, short of moratoriums, regulations materially impact the pace of drilling,” said John Hanger, who tightened a number of drilling regulations in Pennsylvania when he led the state’s Department of Environmental Protection until January.