NEW YORK — U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer.
Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.
The boom has surprised even the experts.
Five years ago, if I or anyone had predicted today's production growth, people would have thought we were crazy, says Jim Burkhard, head of oil markets research at IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm.
The Energy Department forecasts that U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons, which includes biofuels, will average 11.4 million barrels per day next year. That would be a record for the U.S. and just below Saudi Arabia's output of 11.6 million barrels. Citibank forecasts U.S. production could reach 13 million to 15 million barrels per day by 2020, helping to make North America the new Middle East.
The United States will still need to import lots of oil in the years ahead. Americans use 18.7 million barrels per day. But thanks to the growth in domestic production and the improving fuel efficiency of the nation's cars and trucks, imports could fall by half by the end of the decade.
IHS says the oil and gas drilling boom, which already supports 1.7 million jobs, will lead to the creation of 1.3 million jobs across the U.S. economy by the end of the decade.
By the end of this year, U.S. crude output will be at its highest level since 1998 and oil imports will be lower than at any time since 1992, at 41 percent of consumption.
It's a stunning turnaround, Burkhard says.