ENERGY

U.S. oil output to overtake Saudi Arabia’s by 2020, IEA says

BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/PHIL WEYMOUTH
THE U.S. is on track to become almost self-reliant, surpassing Saudi Arabia in oil output by 2020.
Posted 11/12/12

LONDON - U.S. oil output is poised to surpass Saudi Arabia’s in the next decade, making the world’s biggest fuel consumer almost self-reliant and putting it on track to become a net exporter, the International Energy Agency said.

Growing supplies of crude extracted through new technology including hydraulic fracturing of underground rock formations will transform the U.S. into the largest producer for about five years starting about 2020, the Paris-based adviser to 28 nations said today in its annual World Energy Outlook. The U.S. met 83 percent of its energy needs in the first six months of this year, according to the Energy Department in Washington.

“The IEA outlook feeds into the idea of a shift in the center of influence in the world oil market,” said Gareth Lewis-Davies, an analyst at BNP Paribas SA in London. “Given Saudi Arabia is willing to shift production up and down it will retain a large degree of influence, and remain important as a price-influencer.”

The U.S., whose crude imports have fallen 11 percent this year, is on track to produce the most oil since 1991, according to Energy Department data. In a year when Iran has threatened to halt Persian Gulf oil shipments, the growing output, coupled with a gas-production boom, may help insulate the nation from supply disruptions. President Barack Obama cited “freeing ourselves from foreign oil” as a policy goal in his election victory speech last week, echoing his predecessor, George W. Bush, who in 2006 urged the U.S. to break its “addiction” to imported crude.

Oil prices

West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark U.S. grade, has dropped 13 percent this year to $85.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, as stockpiles swelled to a 22-year high. Prices have more than quadrupled in the past decade, reaching as high as $147.27 a barrel in July 2008.

Global demand for oil is projected to rise to 99.7 million barrels a day in 2035, up from 87.4 million last year, according to the IEA, which advises industrialized nations including the U.S., Germany and Japan. Today’s report projects trends to 2035.

Saudi Arabia pumped 9.8 million barrels of oil a day last month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. U.S. output was 6.7 million barrels a day in the week ended Nov. 2, according to the Energy Department.

Overtaking Saudi Arabia

The U.S. will pump 11.1 million barrels of oil a day in 2020 and 10.9 million in 2025, the IEA said. Those figures are 500,000 barrels a day and 100,000 barrels a day higher, respectively, than its forecasts for Saudi Arabia for those years. The desert kingdom is due to become the biggest producer again by 2030, pumping 11.4 million barrels a day versus 10.2 million in the U.S.

“Around 2017, the U.S. will be the largest oil producer of the world, overtaking Saudi Arabia,” IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said at a press conference in London today. “This is of course a major development and definitely will have significant implications.”

Officials at the U.S. Energy Department weren’t available for comment because government offices were closed in observance of the U.S. Veteran’s Day holiday today. A Saudi Arabian oil ministry official based in Riyadh wasn’t immediately available to comment on the report when contacted by phone today.

The IEA report described the U.S.’s advancement toward energy self-sufficiency as “a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy-importing countries.” The nation is developing so-called tight oil reserves including the Bakken shale formation, which are extracted by hydraulic fracturing or horizontal drilling.

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