File - An exploratory well drills for oil in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
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HOUSTON: U.S. shale oil producers, having weathered the worst price plunge in their industry's brief history, now face a dilemma: whether to stay in a defensive crouch after slashing their rig fleets, or start drilling more wells to capture a partial recovery in prices.Today, about 100 public firms and many more private ones are shaping the North American shale industry, raising the risk that hundreds of rigs might quickly re-enter service, even if individual companies tread lightly.At the same time, some have toyed with the idea of adding rigs if U.S. crude hovers for a while around $65 or $70 a barrel.Helping to underpin the shale firms' measured optimism about adding rigs are costs that have fallen 15-25 percent and continued productivity gains for new wells.The U.S. Energy Information Administration sees domestic crude production peaking this year in May at 9.36 million barrels per day.The natural gas shale industry saw an almost identical retrenchment in rigs in 2009, but it rebounded by some 50 percent about nine months after hitting bottom.
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