Utah crude oil production levels increased last year for the first time since 1985, according to the state's Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.

The division said oil production levels rose a slight 0.35 percent in 1997. Natural gas production declined only 0.78 percent in 1997, compared to drops of almost 9 percent in 1996 and more than 11 percent in 1995.The number of new oil and gas wells also increased last year, with the division approving 527 applications for permits to drill the wells. That is the greatest number of approved permits since 1984, when more than 600 were issued.

"These figures represent a very positive trend," said John Baza, associate director for oil and gas. "Utah saw drilling commence on 419 wells during 1997, which is the highest number since 1984."

Crude oil production for 1997 stands at about 19.6 million barrels, while gas production was about 279.9 million cubic feet.

"All indications are that 1998 will be at least as active as 1997," Baza said.