The United States is forecasted to overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's top oil producer by 2017, the West's energy agency said on Monday. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said it saw a continued fall in US oil imports with North America becoming a net oil exporter by around 2030 and the United States becoming almost self-sufficient in energy by 2035.
The United States, which currently imports around 20% of its total energy needs, becomes all but self-sufficient in net terms - a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy importing countries, it said.
The forecasts by the IEA, which advises large industrialised nations on energy policy, were in sharp contrast to its previous reports, which saw Saudi Arabia remaining the top producer until 2035.
Energy developments in the United States are profound and their effect will be felt well beyond North America - and the energy sector, the IEA said in the annual long-term report, giving one of the most optimistic forecasts for US energy production growth to date.
The recent rebound in U.S. oil and gas production, driven by upstream technologies that are unlocking light tight oil and shale gas resources, is spurring economic activity - with less expensive gas and electricity prices giving industry a competitive edge, it added.
IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol told a news conference in London he believed the United States would overtake Russia as the biggest gas producer by a significant margin by 2015. By 2017, it would become the world's largest oil producer, he said.
This could have significant geopolitical implications, if Washington feels its strategic interests are no longer as embedded in the Middle East and other volatile oil producing regions.
Analysts ask whether an energy independent United States would still be prepared to safeguard major trade routes around the world, such as the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East.
The United States will rely more on natural gas than either oil or coal by 2035 as cheap domestic supply boosts demand among industry and power generators, the IEA said.
The IEA said it saw U.S. oil production rising to 10 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2015 and 11.1 million bpd in 2020 before slipping to 9.2 million bpd by 2035.
Saudi Arabian oil output would be 10.9 million bpd by 2015, the IEA said, 10.6 million bpd in 2020 but would rise to 12.3 million bpd by 2035.
Russian oil output, which over the past decade has been steadily above Saudi Arabia, is predicted to stay flat at over 10 million bpd until 2020, when it will start to decline to reach just above 9 million bpd by 2035.
Russia, which remains the largest individual energy exporter throughout the period, sees its revenues from oil, natural gas and coal exports rise from 380 billion dollars in 2011 to 410 billion dollars in 2035, the IEA said.