Oil imports seen dropping to 20-year low on U.S. consumption

A boom in oil production from the shale formations of North Dakota and Texas has the U.S. on a course to cut its reliance on imported crude oil to about 42 percent this year, the lowest level in two decades.

Dependence on crude purchased from foreign countries is on a pace to decline from last year, Adam Sieminski, the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said during a Bloomberg Government lunch yesterday in Washington.

Higher oil prices and increased use of a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing has producers including Continental Resources Inc., Marathon Oil Corp. and Hess Corp. boosting production from oil-rich geologic formations. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping millions of gallons of water into the ground to free oil and natural gas and has been widely used in shale-rock formations such as the Bakken of North Dakota and Eagle Ford in Texas.

“What’s happening in North Dakota, and in Texas, with Eagle Ford, Bakken formation in North Dakota, is a tremendous development for U.S. oil production and economic growth,” Sieminski said.

In 2011, the U.S. relied on imports for 44.8 percent of its petroleum consumption, down from 60.3 percent in 2005, according to EIA data. This year, the nation should end up at about 42 percent, Sieminski said in a telephone interview after the lunch.

Gasoline Prices

Even with domestic production gains, gasoline prices in the U.S. will probably rise 5 cents to 10 cents a gallon by the Sept. 3 Labor Day holiday before falling in the fourth quarter, he said.

The increase at the pump is partly a function of a rise in global crude oil prices, triggered by a drop in exports from Iran and countries that aren’t members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, he said.

The nationwide average price of regular gasoline at the pump gained 0.2 cent to $3.718 a gallon yesterday, AAA data showed. Gasoline has climbed 39.2 cents since July 1, according to the AAA, the nation’s largest motoring organization.

“Gasoline prices should come back down again” in the fourth quarter, Sieminski said. “We think crude will come down a bit as well.”

North Dakota’s oil output rose to 639,000 barrels a day in May, the highest since at least 1981. Texas is at its highest level in more than 20 years, pumping 1.8 million barrels a day in April and May, according to the agency, a unit of the Energy Department that gathers data on energy production and use.

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