A shale gas boom will significantly increase domestic production of oil and gas in the coming years and help cut U.S. reliance on crude oil imported from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to forecasts from OPEC on Thursday.
In its annual World Oil Outlook, OPEC noted that rising domestic oil production would gradually diminish its group's role in the U.S. market. Between 2011 and 2035, oil imports in the U.S. are projected to fall by almost three-quarters, or 5 million barrels a day.
"Given recent significant increases in North American shale oil and shale gas production, it is now clear that these resources might play an increasingly important role in non-OPEC medium- and long-term supply prospects," OPEC said in the report.
Fracking -- the high-pressure injection of water, chemicals, and sand to fracture underground rock formations and release trapped natural gas and oil -- along with advances in horizontal drilling, has made it possible to unlock large new reserves of oil and gas from shale formations in the U.S.
According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. consumed 18.8 million barrels per day of petroleum products during 2011, making it the world's largest petroleum consumer. But less than half of the petroleum it consumed last year was imported -- down from 60 percent 6 years ago. Net imports from OPEC countries accounted for 52 percent of the total.
President Barack Obama, who defeated Gov. Mitt Romney and won a second term Tuesday, has declared that he is committed to freeing the United States from foreign oil.
Obama said in his acceptance speech, "And in the coming weeks and months I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together -- reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil."
In its annual report, OPEC now expects a 14 percent production increase, to 11.2 million barrels pert day (bpd), in U.S. and Canadian production, from 2011 to 2016, instead of a previously forecast decline. Almost all of Canada's oil exports go to the U.S.
Also, OPEC expects global oil demand to total only 92.9 million bpd by 2016, a decline of more 1 million from last year's report. By 2035, consumption will hit 107.3 million barrels per day, more than 2 million less than previously thought. Global oil demand was 87.8 million bpd in 2011.
Supplies from outside OPEC will increase by more than 4 million bpd from 2011 to 2016, reaching 56.6 million.
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