U.S. To Overtake Saudi Arabia As World's Top Oil Producer

By · October 24, 2012

oil and water

The United States imported nearly 60 percent of our oil in 2006. But by the end of this year, oil imports will represent just 41 percent of consumption—the lowest level since 1992. Increased production signals a possible return of cheap gasoline, and an obstacle to electric cars and other fuel-efficient vehicles.

Associated Press reported yesterday that U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track this year to rise to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. The rise of 7 percent this year represents the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.

By next year, according to the Energy Department, U.S. production of crude (as well as other liquid hydrocarbons such as biofuels) will average 11.4 million barrels per day—nearly matching Saudi Arabia's output of 11.6 million barrels. By 2020, North America could become "the new Middle East," according to the AP article.

Big Oil is swooping in. Royal Dutch Shell sees the U.S. as one of the most promising places to drill. ExxonMobil agreed last month to spend $1.6 billion to increase its U.S. oil holdings.

The major factor driving increased domestic production is new technology, such as the ability to drill horizontally into long seams of shale. But many of these methods require fracking, which can result in contaminated drinking water. A natural gas glut has forced drillers to slow natural gas exploration, and now they are equipped and prepared to shift to oil.

Domestic energy production is positive from economic and geopolitical perspectives, and should be celebrated. But we should also be fully aware of the environmental trade-offs, including impacts from increased oil production taking place in our own backyards (see: BP oil spill and fracking). In addition. economic fundamentals suggest that cheaper gas will lead to more driving in bigger internal combustion vehicles—emitting more tailpipe pollution into the air we breathe.

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