If you want to sink new wells in the hopes of finding or pumping oil or natural gas, you'd best be prepared to shell out some bucks. It's a pretty simple story, really -- high energy prices are stimulating drilling activity, but there aren't enough rigs to go around and prices are shooting up. It's quite lucrative for the likes of Helmerich & Payne (NYSE:HP).

Revenue for this predominantly U.S. onshore driller jumped another 46% in its fiscal first quarter. The basic formula here is the same as it has been for most other drillers, whether they're the likes of offshore giants Transocean (NYSE:RIG) or other assorted drilling companies like GlobalSantaFe (NYSE:GSF) and Nabors (NYSE:NBR) -- higher utilization and higher dayrates equal more revenue.

While it's also true that expenses are shooting up (and it's getting a little harder to find quality labor), dayrates are moving up faster, too. So operating margins are improving and the company is delivering substantially greater income growth. But how much greater? Stripping out some non-operating income relating to securities and asset sales, you get year-over-year net income growth of about 77% for this quarter.

Looking at some of the operating stats, U.S. land dayrates rose 51% for the first quarter and utilization rose to 97%. For the U.S. offshore business, the respective numbers were 41% and 64%, and for international they were 6% and 83%.

While simple supply and demand are the underpinnings of the story today, there are crucial details, as well. H&P is building new rigs (they have contracts for 54), but only when they can get favorable deals of at least three years in length. What's more, anecdotal conversations with some of my friends in the oil patch suggest that H&P really does have a good reputation among its customers -- something that may not matter when companies are looking for any rig they can find, but will certainly matter if, and when, times get tougher.

If you're showing up late to this party, just be careful. The market has a nasty habit of anticipating cyclical peaks before they actually happen. Still, with all of the uncertainty in the news and the expanding exploration budgets at home, it seems like these rigs will be busy for a while to come.

For more oily Foolishness:

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).