In making my selection for Best Stock for 2009, I expressed extreme hesitancy in choosing from the energy sector. A roundup of recent data points and telling actions by various players should clarify why I'm still spooked.

In mid-December, G. Allen Brooks, an energy investment banker who pens the thoughtful Musings From the Oil Patch newsletter, projected a 1,000-rig drop in the U.S. rig count, as calculated weekly by Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI). This figure peaked in September at a 23-year high of 2,449. A drop of 1,000 would thus translate to a decline of roughly 40%.

Today, I'm not really interested in exploring whether this collapse in activity is already priced into a stock like Nabors Industries (NYSE:NBR) or Precision Drilling Trust (NYSE:PDS). I'm more intrigued that public companies have quickly come around to Mr. Brooks' point of view.

NATCO Group, a wellhead separation equipment supplier, came out with guidance today that modeled an average rig count drop to 1,450 for 2009. In other words, a 1,000-rig drop from the peak.

Mr. Brooks is clearly well-followed, and for good reason. He turns up nuggets like this one: StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO) recently canceled a tender offer for drilling rigs in the North Sea, because rig rates are too high. Since this underreported announcement, I've also seen Leed Petroleum issue a similar statement. The small U.K.-based firm released its only rig, the Ensco (NYSE:ESV) 98, and it's waiting for rates to "normalize" before hiring any others.

These tidbits point to a growing disconnect, or what you might call a bid/ask spread, between E&Ps on the one hand, and drilling contractors like Transocean (NYSE:RIG) and Noble (NYSE:NE) on the other. For a time, it seemed as though the deepwater-levered players would largely be immune to such pushback. But with crude oil down to the low $40s, even the most sought-after rigs may see their going rates ratcheted down before long.

Further Foolishness in the pipeline:

Precision Drilling is a Global Gains pick. StatoilHydro is an Income Investor selection. See if either service serves your portfolio purposes with a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.