In this week's news update, the rig count holds steady, and the 40-year export ban is lifted as part of a bipartisan spending and tax relief bill now signed into law

The U.S. Congress voted on Dec. 18 to lift the 40-year-old ban on exporting U.S. crude oil in an energy policy shift sought by Republicans as part of a bipartisan deal that also provides tax incentives for wind and solar power.

The Senate, on a 65-33 vote, approved repealing the ban and providing five-year extensions of tax breaks to boost renewable energy development as part of a $1.8 trillion government spending and tax relief bill that President Barack Obama quickly signed into law.

The House of Representatives passed legislation containing the energy provisions earlier in the day by a 316-113 tally.

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Drillers have said lifting the ban would increase U.S. oil security and give allies in Europe and Asia an alternative source of crude beyond OPEC and Russia.

“Lifting the ban on oil exports will continue to directly impact the Eagle Ford Shale region by ensuring its growth is both long-term and sustainable,” says Haley Curry, vice president, external affairs, South Texas Energy & Economic Roundtable. “Lifting the ban on oil exports is the smart move — for national security, for the economy and for our nation’s future.”

Rig Count Stable, Holds At 709
The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. last week held steady at 709, according to oilfield services company Baker Hughes.

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The Houston-based company reported that 541 rigs were seeking oil — up 17 from the previous week — and 168 explored for natural gas. A year ago, 1,875 rigs were active.

Texas and Pennsylvania each declined by four rigs, while Louisiana was down two and Wyoming was down by one. West Virginia increased by three rigs as Alaska, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma were up by one.

Arkansas, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Ohio and Utah were all unchanged.

Related: New Interest in Upper Devonian Shale Spurs Oil & Gas Exploration

Study Shows Fracking Unlikely Cause of Water Pollution
Wyoming environmental officials say fracking is unlikely to have contaminated drinking water east of Pavillion, disputing a report from the federal government that initially blamed fracking for tainting the water.

A report released Dec. 18 as part of a report by the state Department of Environmental Quality says samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution.

About four years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report tentatively linking fracking to polluted water outside the tiny central Wyoming community.

While fracking is ruled out, the state report did not completely rule out contamination from oil and gas operations. Regulators said more research is needed to determine if disposal pits or equipment could have leaked into the groundwater.

Wood Group Acquires Energy Services Company Kelchner
Scottish oilfield services company Wood Group announced Dec. 21 that it has acquired energy field services company Kelchner for an undisclosed amount.

Ohio-based Kelchner will operate alongside Wood Group in the Marcellus and Utica Shale basins in the eastern U.S.

Todd Kelchner, chief executive for Kelchner, will continue to lead the existing management team and 375 personnel after the merger.

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