(Adds rig count in Permian)
Feb 8 (Reuters) - U.S. energy firms this week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the second time in three weeks after oil prices soared over 18 percent in January.
Companies added 7 oil rigs in the week to Feb. 8, bringing the total count to 854, General Electric Co's Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Friday. RIG-OL-USA-BHI.
The U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output, is still higher than a year ago when 791 rigs were active after energy companies boosted spending in 2018 to capture higher prices that year.
In 2019, however, some drillers have said they plan to remove rigs due in part to forecasts for lower crude prices than last year.
In the Permian basin in West Texas and eastern New Mexico where more than half the U.S. oil rigs are located, active units fell by three this week to 478, their lowest level since July. The Permian is the nation's biggest shale oil field.
Liberty Oilfield Services Inc this week estimated roughly 20 percent of the hydraulic fracturing fleets that were active in mid-2018 have now been idled or are being idled.
U.S. crude futures were trading slightly under $53 a barrel on Friday, down about 5 percent for the week on worries of a global economic slowdown.
Looking ahead, crude futures were trading around $54 a barrel for the balance of 2019 and $55 for calendar 2020. EIA projected West Texas Intermediate WTC- spot crude would average $54.19 in 2019 and $60.76 in 2020, down from an average of $65.06 in 2018.
U.S. financial services firm Cowen & Co said this week that early indications from the exploration and production (E&P) companies it tracks point to a 1 percent increase in capital expenditures for drilling and completions in 2019.
Cowen noted larger spenders, like BP Plc and Chevron Corp, appear to be more resilient and have spending up year-over-year, while smaller, gas-exposed operators are generally down.
In total, Cowen said those E&P companies spent about $88.7 billion in 2018.
There were 1,049 oil and natural gas rigs active in the United States this week, according to Baker Hughes. Most rigs produce both oil and gas.
Analysts at Simmons & Co, energy specialists at U.S. investment bank Piper Jaffray, this week forecast the average combined oil and gas rig count will fall from 1,032 in 2018 to 999 in 2019 before rising to 1,087 in 2020. That was the same as its forecast last week.
Reporting by Scott DiSavino Editing by Susan Thomas and Chizu Nomiyama