The pattern in the U.S. land drillers has been the same since October 2010 earnings season, when bears expected the pricing peak in the U.S. market to start to rear its ugly head. More heavily covered U.S. land drilling plays like Helmerich & Payne ( BRNC) and Patterson-UTI ( PTEN) have followed the oil services chart straight up since last October. An analyst who covers the U.S. drillers but not Bronco or Union specifically said that another point to consider in the strength of these stocks is that aside from deepwater-related stocks that tanked in the wake of Macondo, the U.S. land drillers were the subsector underperformer within the oil services sector in 2010. "The story has been switched around and there is now greater confidence in the North American land drilling market, with continued strength in oil-directed activity," said the oil services analyst who couldn't be quoted in a story about stocks he does not specifically cover. The analyst explained that concerns in 2010 focused on the natural gas market glut pushing rig counts in North America down and even as the oil rig count was expected to rise, it wouldn't be able to make up for the natural gas declines. "People were expecting a flat market in 2011 but we are seeing continued growth, and the strength in the oil plays is outpacing the natural gas weakness," the analyst explained, adding that spending plans from drillers in 2011 have also added to the optimistic outlook. The current unrest in Northern Africa and the Middle East has helped, too, pushing crude oil prices higher and driving up energy stocks, though at some point, the price of oil also will have the power to send energy stocks lower on fears of a global economic slowdown, especially with even the laggard U.S. land drilling stocks now testing 52-week high levels. On Friday, oil was dominant again in market headlines, with the price of U.S. light sweet crude topping $104 and Brent crude back over $115.