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Shale Oil Will Boost U.S. Production, But It Won’t Bring Energy Independence

• Kevin Bullis ia TechnologyReview.com

The United States could see a surge in oil production that could make it the world’s leading oil producer within a decade, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. But that lead will likely be temporary, and it still won’t allow the United States to stop importing oil. Barring technological breakthroughs in oil production and major reductions in consumption, the United States will need to rely on oil from outside its borders for the foreseeable future.

This week’s IEA report predicts that a relatively new technology for extracting oil from shale rock could make the United States the world’s leading oil producer within a decade, beating the current leader, Saudi Arabia.

The idea that the U.S. could overtake Saudi Arabia, even temporarily, is a stunning development after years of seemingly inexorable declines in domestic oil production. U.S. production had fallen from 10 million barrels a day in the 1980s to 6.9 barrels per day in 2008, even as consumption increased from 15.7 million barrels per day in 1985 to 19.5 million barrels per day in 2008. The IEA estimates that production could reach 11.1 million barrels per day by 2020, almost entirely because of increases in the production of shale oil, which is extracted using the same horizontal drilling and fracking techniques that have flooded the U.S. with cheap natural gas.

 

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