Fracking pushes U.S. oil output to highest level in 20 years

By Asjylyn Loder

Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) — U.S. oil production exceeded 7 million barrels a day for the first time since March 1993 as improved drilling techniques boosted exploration across the country and reinforced a shift toward energy independence.

The Energy Department reported today that weekly average output rose to 7.002 million barrels a day in the week ended Jan. 4, a 1.16 million-barrel increase from the same week last year. The country met 83 percent of its energy needs in the first nine months of 2012, on pace to be the highest annual rate since 1991, department data show.

The figures came a day after the department predicted the surge in oil production in 2013 would be the largest in history.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking,  have unlocked crude trapped in formations such as North Dakota’s Bakken shale. The state boosted production 40 percent last year through October, Energy Department data show. Texas was up 23 percent, and Utah rose 11 percent.

“I don’t think anyone expected the magnitude of the change in just one year,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC, a Houston-based consulting firm. “It’s extraordinary.”

The Paris-based International Energy Agency said in November that the U.S. is on track to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2020. The Persian Gulf country pumped 9.57 million barrels a day in December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The U.S. will pump an average 7.32 million barrels a day this year and 7.93 million in 2014, the department said yesterday in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook.

North Dakota last year overtook Ecuador, the smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and is closing in on Qatar, the second-smallest, which produced 750,000 barrels a day in December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The state’s output reached 747,000 barrels a day in October, Energy Department data show.