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With the critical winter drilling season under way, Alberta’s oil and gas producers have deployed more rigs across the province than at any time since 2018 as drillers battle through labour shortages to capitalize on high oil prices.

As of last week, Alberta’s rig count, a bellwether for future production, sat at 187, up roughly 15 per cent from last year, according to figures published by Baker Hughes, a U.S. oil fields services company.

Unlike in the United States, where drillers operate year-round, most Western Canada activity takes place between November and April, typically peaking in February when the frozen ground allows companies to move their equipment to remote areas.

The latest figures mark a stark rebound from 2020 when oil prices collapsed amid pandemic lockdowns and the number of rigs across all of Canada fell to just 13. Even so, Alberta’s rig count remains two-thirds below where it was before oil prices crashed in 2014.

In its 2023 outlook, the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors said it expects the number of wells drilled in Canada to jump 15 per cent this year to more than 6,400, though it warned finding enough workers to operate rigs is the “biggest challenge” facing the industry.

Decoder is a weekly feature that unpacks an important economic chart