Oil companies took out a greater number U.S. drilling permits in September, boosting permitting levels 66 percent higher than this time last year, as oil prices hover near $50 a barrel.

The number of U.S. land permits issued last month totaled more than 4,700, compared to 3,300 the previous month, with the biggest surges coming in California, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, according to data compiled by investment bank Evercore ISI.

It marked the first time since January 2015 that the four-week trailing average of drilling permits rose above 2014 levels. Evercore said it expects drillers to pull back on fourth-quarter spending, but the flurry of permits could mean the rig count could, at the very least, stabilize.

"A sharp rig count inflection could be in the cards," Evercore analyst James West wrote in a note to clients.