U.S. could top Saudi Arabia’s by 2020, IEA says

Surging production of oil from shale is set to leapfrog the United States over Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest exporter by 2020, according to a report today from the world’s energy watchdog.

The International Energy Agency projected the United States would briefly move ahead of Saudi Arabia to take the title of the world’s largest oil producer, while also slashing American’s use of fossil fuels because of improved energy efficiency.

That change would not only reshape the world’s energy order, putting the United States back on top of oil producers, but it would also turn the nation into a net exporter of fossil fuels, according to the agency’s World Energy Outlook, released Monday.

The shift would turn the flow of world oil to Asia, which is projected to lead the world in demand of fossil fuels.

Between efficiency improvements that cut down on fossil fuel use and production gains, the United States and North America is transforming the world energy economy, the agency said.

The United States currently imports about 20 percent of it’s energy needs, but it will nearly eliminate its net imports by 2035, the agency said.

“North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production that will affect all regions of the world, yet the potential also exists for a similarly transformative shift in global energy efficiency,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement. Energy efficiency improvements, like fuel efficiency standards, can by 2035 cut the equivalent of about a fifth of global energy demand, van der Hoeven said.

“In other words, energy efficiency is just as important as unconstrained energy supply, and increased action on efficiency can serve as a unifying energy policy that brings multiple benefits,” she said.

China is expected to lead the growth in world energy demand, accounting for 50 percent of the increase. Fossil fuel demand in the United States, however, continues to shrink, largely because of improved efficiency.

World oil demand is expected to grow slowly, reaching 99.7 million barrels a day by 2035, up from 87.4 million barrels a day in 2011, the agency said.