The United States became the world's largest oil producer in 2014, according to a report by the BP energy company.
BP economist Spencer Dale credits the "shale revolution" for a surge in American oil production that helped U.S. producers "leapfrog" over Saudi Arabia. American output of natural gas and oil combined is now greater than that of Russia, the previous global leader.
In a presentation to energy experts in Washington, Dale said we are witnessing a "changing of the guard" in terms of global energy suppliers with "profound" implications. The U.S. now spends far less on energy imports, which once hurt the nation's balance of trade and the economy.
Dale said that at the high point last year, "more than 1,800 rigs were operating in major U.S. oil and gas plays, drilling around 40,000 new wells.“
That’s enough wells to boost U.S. production to 11.6 million barrels per day — roughly 16 percent more than the year before.
The credit belongs in part to expanded use of fracking technology, which extracts more petroleum product from shale deposits once thought to be out reach.
But the technology remains controversial. The earth-friendly World Business Academy says increased production means a higher risk of spills.
Matt Renner, executive director of the academy, said, "An oil spill anywhere is a crime. Oil belongs in the ground, and we need to leave the rest of it in there.”
While the increased production capacity means the U.S. is no longer dependent on foreign energy imports, Bob Deans, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the challenge has never been how to produce more oil, but how to use less.
"We’ve got to stop burning oil in Oklahoma, in Kansas, and Ohio and Pennsylvania — all over this country and all over the world," Deans said. "That’s got to be the long-term goal.”
Energy demand grew less than 1 percent last year, the weakest rate since 2009. BP experts calculate that weak demand and changes in Chinese energy use combined to keep growth in carbon emissions to about one-half of a percent for the year.
With energy supplies outpacing demand, prices fell sharply, allowing consumers to save money for other purposes, a change that is eventually expected to boost economic growth.
VOA's Mil Arcega contributed to this report.