The International Energy Agency says that by 2017 the United States is likely to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil producer.
The Paris-based energy agency said Monday in its annual forecast that the U.S. is drilling more crude oil through increased use of hydraulic fracturing of underground shale formations. The IEA said it expects the increased production could eventually make the world's largest economy nearly energy self-sufficient, a goal long sought by U.S. leaders but one they have never come close to achieving.
The organization, which is made up of 28 nations, said the U.S. now imports enough oil to meet 20 percent of its energy needs. But the agency projected that North America would become a net oil exporter by about 2030 and the U.S. almost self-sufficient five years later.
The forecast is a marked change for the IEA, which previously had predicted the Saudis would remain the world's top producer until 2035.
The U.S. says it is on pace this year to produce its most oil since 1991, which is making the country less dependent on oil imports from the politically volatile Middle East. Saudi Arabia now produces 9.8 million barrels of oil a day, compared to 6.7 million barrels in the U.S.
The IEA predicted the U.S. would pump 11.1-million barrels a day in 2020, about a half million more than Saudi Arabia. The agency said it expects the Saudis to again become the top producer by 2030.
With hydraulic fracturing, a process commonly known as "fracking," shale oil and natural gas are extracted after water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground at high pressure to crack open rocks.
Fracking is banned in and around the city Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is under moratorium in the nearby states of New York and Maryland, pending further health- and environmental-risk assessment.