It's been a rough year for oil and gas drilling service companies. While supermajors like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) haven't been too affected by the commodities carnage, independents like Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) have pulled in their horns in a big way. Some E&Ps have even gone to zero. That activity slowdown has slammed onshore and offshore drillers alike.

Some folks, like Atwood Oceanics (NYSE:ATW), kept their balance sheets clean through the boom and are able to ride out this bust quite comfortably. The two drillers I'm looking at today, however, got themselves into some trouble on the debt side. Let's take a look at their latest financial results to see if they'll make it out of this slump alive.

Considering the dreadful environment, Precision Drilling Trust (NYSE:PDS) reported a relatively robust earnings figure yesterday. Of course, more than 90% of that was attributable to a foreign exchange gain. Back out that gain and you see the impact of Canadian rig utilization dropping to an all-time low of 11%.

In hindsight, Precision chose a uniquely bad time to pursue a takeover of fellow land driller Grey Wolf. Finding itself saddled with a big bridge loan in the midst of a credit maelstrom, Precision was forced to take some dramatic steps toward self-preservation. First the firm dashed its dividend, and then came the painful placement. The upshot is that the firm is now on solid footing, with a debt-to-capitalization ratio of 0.24, compared to 0.37 at year's end.

Investors are bidding up Precision shares in a big way today, but Hercules Offshore (NASDAQ:HERO) is seeing even more love. Does that mean the shallow-water driller is free and clear?

I would actually suggest to Fools that they steer clear. While it's encouraging that Hercules' lenders are being accommodative and easing some financial covenants on the firm's massive borrowings, the sheer size of this debt load is going to prove difficult to surmount. The new management is doing a commendable job, but the assets here are nothing to write home about, and I would stick with a driller like Ensco International (NYSE:ESV), whose long-term earning power is not only clear, but clearly rising.

Precision Drilling is a Global Gains pick. Chesapeake Energy is an Inside Value recommendation. Atwood Oceanics is a Stock Advisor selection. Energize your portfolio by accessing any of our subscriber newsletters free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chesapeake and has a dashing disclosure policy.