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Jan 6 (Reuters) - U.S. oil and natural gas production jobs increased in November for the first time in over two years as drillers returned to the well pad after crude rallied following its biggest price rout in a generation, according to U.S. jobs data on Friday.
Combined oil and gas extraction and support services jobs increased by 3,300 to 384,300 in November, its first increase since September 2014 when employment in the sector peaked at 536,100, according U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.
Energy firms shed over 155,000 jobs over the prior two years as they cut the number of rigs drilling for oil from a record high of 1,609 in October 2014 to a six-year low of 316 in May, according to the BLS data and Baker Hughes Inc's rig count.
Those rig cuts came as U.S. crude futures collapsed from over $107 a barrel in June 2014 to near $26 in February 2016 due to a global oil glut and lackluster demand for the fuel.
Since then, crude prices have doubled to around $54 a barrel as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers agreed to reduce output during the first half of 2017 in an effort to stem the oversupply.
Analysts said U.S. exploration and production companies (E&P) responded to those higher prices by adding more than 200 oil rigs over the past six months with even more spending expected on drilling over the next year or two.
Analysts at U.S. financial services firm Cowen & Co said this week in a note that its capital expenditure tracking showed 25 E&Ps planned to increase spending by an average of 33 percent in 2017 over 2016.
That spending increase in 2017 followed an estimated 47 percent decline in 2016 and a 35 percent decline in 2015, Cowen said according to the 65 E&P companies it tracks.
The BLS only has data for support service jobs through November, while oil and gas extraction jobs data is available through December.
The BLS said oil and gas extraction jobs fell by 1,300, or 1 percent, to 172,400 in December after gaining 1,400 in November. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy)