1/24/97 -- 2:26 PM

Rig Count,0183

HOUSTON (AP) - The number of oil and gas rigs operating nationwide dropped by three this week to 815, Baker Hughes Inc. said Friday.

There were 703 rigs operating in the United States during the same week last year.

Of the rigs running this week, 481 were exploring for natural gas and 333 for oil. One rig was listed as miscellaneous.

Houston-based Baker Hughes has kept track of the count since 1940. The tally peaked at 4,500 in December of 1981 during the oil boom. It dropped to a record low of 596 in the summer of 1993, exceeding the previous low of 663 in 1986.

The rig count represents the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas.

Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas gained the most with 11 rigs. Wyoming and Kansas each had three more, while Colorado added one.

Louisiana had five fewer rigs, while New Mexico had four less.

Pennsylvania was down by two rigs. Ohio, Oklahoma and North Dakota each had one less rig.

California and Michigan were unchanged.

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