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UPDATE 1-ProPetro estimates number of frac fleets in Permian slumps to 20

(Adds details from call)

June 2 (Reuters) - Oilfield firm ProPetro Holding Corp on Tuesday estimated there are 20 hydraulic fracturing fleets running in the Permian Basin shale field, marking a sharp decline as oil prices have dropped 41% this year.

A year ago, as many as 172 fleets were running in the largest U.S. oilfield, according to data from consultancy Primary Vision. Oil and gas companies have cut spending and production as prices cratered following the COVID-19 pandemic and a short-lived price war between major producers that led to a global oil glut.

ProPetro said it expected to have three to four hydraulic fracturing fleets fully working this quarter, from nearly 19 last quarter. Hydraulic fracturing pumps water, chemicals and sand into wells to released trapped oil and gas.

While the recent rebound in oil prices to around $36 a barrel, up about $16 since early May, has some companies restarting activity, ProPetro Chief Executive Phillip Gobe warned current pricing remains unprofitable for service firms.

“I would caution everyone, activity could pick up, but it may not be profitable activity,” he told investors during its first quarter earnings call on Tuesday. “If you see others activity picking up ahead of us, it might be more of how they’re pricing their equipment to go to work.”

The company said it had reduced its workforce by over 65% since March. (Reporting by Liz Hampton Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

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