For comparison, in the 40 years since U.S. oil production peaked annual output has jumped only eight times. Seven of those increases were minimal; only in 1978 was there a jump of significant magnitude, an increase of 5.6%, to 8.7 million b/d.
Last year's hurricane curtailments distorted the production numbers somewhat for the 2008 comparison, given that 183,000 b/d of Gulf of Mexico output was still offline at the end of that year. However, 2009 is still expected to post increases of 3% and 4% from the relatively storm-free years of 2006 and 2007, respectively.
Projections from the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) indicate that the primary driver for this year's U.S. oil production resurgence is actually just getting started. That driver is the Gulf of Mexico, where operators have begun launching a group of new fields, fulfilling what has been a decade-long focus on unlocking the promise of deepwater exploration there.
In its reporting, Platts concluded that with the jump in the Gulf of Mexico, combined with the emergence of two other new oil-production trends, it appears the U.S. has a chance of at least maintaining oil output in the range of five million to six million b/d for some years to come. "We see it above five million barrels per day for the next 10 years or so," Platts quoted Peter Jackson, senior director for IHS CERA, as saying. "There is still a tremendous amount of exploration potential in the U.S. and that plateau could be sustained."
The Gulf posted its biggest oil production year in 2002 with 1.556 million b/d, but only 61% of that total came from deepwater. In contrast, this year the MMS projects oil output of 1.213 million b/d with 76% from deepwater as the Gulf ramps toward an expected new oil production record of 1.635 million b/d by 2011.
Besides growth in the Gulf, those other trends involve further development of the Bakken Shale oil play in North Dakota and success by a group of operators now training their onshore exploration sights toward new oil targets at the expense of natural gas.
The development of the Bakken into a robust, new oil province is well under way, according to data from EIA. Bakken oil output has already elevated North Dakota into fifth place among U.S. states for oil production with average daily output of 202,000 b/d at the end of 2008. But that number already appears to be old, even though is was 50% more than 2007 figures. For example, in June of this year, production in North Dakota had climbed to 215,000 b/d.
As for companies shifting their strategies, that group includes large Houston independent and Bakken pioneer EOG Resources, which has set a goal of shifting from a 70% gas production share to a 50:50 oil and gas mix by 2011 with a comprehensive review of additional potential North American shale oil targets.
This rise in output has helped the U.S. reduce its net imports - defined as imports less exports, both crude and petroleum products - by a substantial amount. While there are many factors that go into the United States' net import figure, the decline has been striking, according to EIA data.
For the final three months of 2008, net imports - reported weekly by EIA - were never less than 10.5 million b/d, and were as high as 12.68 million b/d. This year, the EIA is reporting that net imports in the first week of October were 10.1 million b/d, have not been higher since, and have been as low as 8.84 million b/d.
And while the drop in U.S. consumption can be seen as accounting for much of that decline, the U.S. also has put more than 140 million barrels of crude oil and products into inventory since the beginning of October 2008, something made possible in part by the rise in crude oil output.