Monday, January 23, 2012

Oil production is surging in the U.S.

Oil Fields Gushing in the U.S.  
By TOM FOWLER 1/23/12

Federal forecasters are expected to confirm on Monday what the energy industry already knows: Oil production is surging in the U.S.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is likely to raise by a substantial amount its existing estimate that U.S. oil production will grow by 550,000 barrels per day by 2020, to just over six million barrels daily.

The forecast will include new production data from developing oil fields, including the Bakken shale area in North Dakota, which could hold as much of 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. North Dakota's output of oil and related liquids topped 500,000 barrels per day in November, meaning that the state pumped more oil than Ecuador. In fact, U.S. oil production grew faster than in any other country over the last three years and will continue to surge as drillers move away from natural gas due to a growing gas glut, experts say. The glut has sent natural-gas prices to a 10-year low.

The combination of techniques that fueled the recent rise in natural-gas production—horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"—has been expanded to U.S. oil fields.

This rising tide of oil and related liquids such as condensate that also are used as fuel could reduce U.S. dependence on oil imports and help ease the country's trade deficit. But it may have limited impact on U.S. gasoline prices, which increasingly are set by global supply-and-demand trends.

The increased domestic production also isn't enough to help the U.S. achieve the elusive ideal of energy independence—the country is expected to consume more than 19 million barrels of oil and liquids a day by 2020.

From 2008 through 2011, U.S. production of a broader category of oil and related liquids grew by 1.3 million barrels per day, or more than 17 percent, to 8.9 million barrels, according to the research firm IHS-CERA. That outpaced Russia, which saw production grow about 480,000 barrels per day; China, where it grew about 380,000 barrels per day; and Brazil, where output was up by more than 340,000 barrels daily.

IHS-CERA predicts that U.S. production could grow by another 1.3 million barrels per day by 2020, to 10.2 million barrels.

"I don't think it's widely appreciated how dramatic it's been," Jim Burkhard, managing director of IHS CERA's Global Oil Group, said of U.S. growth. "Deep-water production has contributed to the growth in recent years, and more biofuels has helped, but the really dramatic improvement has been in onshore oil and liquids—and that is what will continue to drive growth in coming years."

The surge is big reversal from just a few years ago. U.S. production of oil and other liquids peaked at 11.3 million barrels a day in 1970 and began to decline. The decline bottomed out at 7.6 million barrels a day in 2008 as the new drilling techniques emerged.

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