HOUSTON (Reuters) - The number of offshore oil and gas drilling rigs working in the Gulf of Mexico has increased slightly in recent weeks, and the number available has remained steady despite the U.S. drilling moratorium, analysts said Friday.
Numbers from both ODS Petrodata and RigData, competing industry information services, showed increases.
A total of 36 mobile offshore drilling rigs were working this week, up from 27 as of July 23, but down from 69 before BP Plc's massive Macondo oil spill began April 20, according to ODS Petrodata.
RigData said two idle rigs went back to work this week.
Analysts predicted rigs would flee the Gulf after the U.S. government imposed a temporary ban on deepwater drilling and licensing of shallow water work grew more complicated due to new safety demands.
The week before the spill, 122 rigs, floating and jack-up, were in the Gulf, though 36 were cold-stacked meaning preparation is needed to get them back on the job.
As of Friday, 121 were in the Gulf and 40 were cold-stacked, ODS Petrodata said.
"We only had two mobile rigs leave," said ODS Petrodata publisher Tom Marsh. "More have come back, and more are scheduled to come back."
RigData's numbers differed slightly, with 119 rigs available. RigData did not separate out rigs actually working from those idle but under contract, awaiting drilling. The two services had similar total numbers of rigs under contract.
What happens longer term depends on the fulfillment of expectations that the moratorium - intended to investigate and assure drilling safety ends as expected by November, Marsh said.
"There have been a couple of permits actually issued," Marsh said.
"The other thing is operators working with rig owners have been looking around for activities that don't require the fullblown permit process," he said.
"You're always going to have some maintenance and workover stuff to do. You can't not do that," Marsh said.
Reporting by Bruce Nichols; Editing by Marguerita Choy