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US May Soon Become World's Top Oil Producer

By the end of this year, U.S. crude output will be at its highest level since 1998 and oil imports will be lower than at any time since 1992, at 41 percent of consumption.

"It's a stunning turnaround," Burkhard says.

Whether the U.S. supplants Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer will depend on the price of oil and Saudi production in the years ahead. Saudi Arabia sits on the world's largest reserves of oil, and it raises and lowers production to try to keep oil prices steady. Saudi output is expected to remain about flat between now and 2017, according to the International Energy Agency.

But Saudi oil is cheap to tap, while the methods needed to tap U.S. oil are very expensive. If the price of oil falls below $75 per barrel, drillers in the U.S. will almost certainly begin to cut back.

The International Energy Agency forecasts that global oil prices, which have averaged $107 per barrel this year, will slip to an average of $89 over the next five years â¿¿ not a big enough drop to lead companies to cut back on exploration deeply.

Nor are they expected to fall enough to bring back the days of cheap gasoline. Still, more of the money that Americans spend at filling stations will flow to domestic drillers, which are then more likely to buy equipment here and hire more U.S. workers.

"Drivers will have to pay high prices, sure, but at least they'll have a job," Verleger says.

___

Follow Jonathan Fahey on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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