NEW YORK -- Oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer.
Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth consecutive year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.
The Energy Department forecasts that U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons, which includes biofuels, will average 11.4 million barrels per day next year.
That would be a record for the U.S. and just below Saudi Arabia's output of 11.6 million barrels.
Citibank forecasts U.S. production could reach 13 million to 15 million barrels per day by 2020, helping to make North America "the new Middle East."
The last year the U.S. was the world's largest producer was 2002, after the Saudis drastically cut production because of low oil prices in the aftermath of 9/11.
The United States still will need to import oil in the years ahead. Americans use 18.7 million barrels per day. Along with better fuel efficiency of the nation's cars and trucks, imports could fall by half by the end of the decade.