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US May Soon Become World's Top Oil Producer

The United States will still need to import lots of oil in the years ahead. Americans use 18.7 million barrels per day. But thanks to the growth in domestic production and the improving fuel efficiency of the nation's cars and trucks, imports could fall by half by the end of the decade.

The increase in production hasn't translated to cheaper gasoline at the pump, and prices are expected to stay relatively high for the next few years because of growing demand for oil in developing nations and political instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

Still, producing more oil domestically, and importing less, gives the economy a significant boost.

The companies profiting range from independent drillers to large international oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, which increasingly see the U.S. as one of the most promising places to drill. ExxonMobil agreed last month to spend $1.6 billion to increase its U.S. oil holdings.

Increased drilling is driving economic growth in states such as North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana and Texas, all of which have unemployment rates far below the national average of 7.8 percent. North Dakota is at 3 percent; Oklahoma, 5.2.

Businesses that serve the oil industry, such as steel companies that supply drilling pipe and railroads that transport oil, aren't the only ones benefiting. Homebuilders, auto dealers and retailers in energy-producing states are also getting a lift.

IHS says the oil and gas drilling boom, which already supports 1.7 million jobs, will lead to the creation of 1.3 million jobs across the U.S. economy by the end of the decade.

"It's the most important change to the economy since the advent of personal computers pushed up productivity in the 1990s," says economist Philip Verleger, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

The major factor driving domestic production higher is a newfound ability to squeeze oil out of rock once thought too difficult and expensive to tap. Drillers have learned to drill horizontally into long, thin seams of shale and other rock that holds oil, instead of searching for rare underground pools of hydrocarbons that have accumulated over millions of years.

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