%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)

HOUSTON (AP) _ The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the United States rose by nine this week to 847.

Of the rigs running nationwide, 721 were exploring for gas, 124 were looking for oil and two were listed as miscellaneous, Houston-based Baker Hughes Inc. reported Friday.

A year ago, the rig count was 1,252.

Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Louisiana gained seven rigs, New Mexico and Oklahoma four each and California one.

Texas declined by six and Wyoming was down four. Alaska was unchanged.

Baker Hughes has kept track of the count since 1944. The tally peaked at 4,530 on Dec. 28, 1981, during the height of the oil boom, but set several record lows in 1999, bottoming out at 488 on April 23, 1999.