U.S. oil production keeps rising beyond the forecasts

Floyd NorrisThe New York Times

Oil production in the United States rose by a record 992,000 barrels a day in 2013, the International Energy Agency estimated this week.

"We keep raising our forecasts, and we keep underestimating production," said Lejla Alic, a Paris-based analyst with the agency.

The increase left U.S. production at 7.5 million barrels a day, with both November and December production estimated to have been over eight million barrels a day.

American consumption of oil also rose last year, by 390,000 barrels a day, or 2.1 percent, to 18.9 million barrels a day. The agency increased its estimate of U.S. oil use in the final quarter of the year, although it lowered its estimate of the increase in some other countries, including China. Overall, world consumption rose 1.4 percent, making 2013 the first year since 1999 that the use of oil in the United States rose more rapidly than in the rest of the world.

The agency said that demand was strong in the petrochemical industry in the United States, which has benefited from the fact that rising supply has left U.S. crude oil prices lower than those in many other countries. The agency estimated that demand for gasoline in the United States rose as a result of increasing consumer confidence and more sales of sport utility vehicles.

Despite the 2013 increases, oil use in most developed countries remains well below the levels of 2007, the last pre-recession year. The United States is estimated to have used 8.5 percent less oil in 2013 than it did in 2007, while demand is down by about 25 percent in Italy and Spain, European countries that were hard hit by the euro area's problems. Germany stands out, with 2013 usage equal to that of 2007.

In the developing world, oil use has been rising steadily. Demand in China and Brazil is up more than 30 percent since 2007, and India's consumption is 17 percent higher.

The agency estimates that in 2014, the 34 mostly rich countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will consume less than half the oil used in the world. That would be a first: As recently as 2004, their share was over 60 percent, and in 2013, it was estimated to be 50.5 percent.

Over the same period, the U.S. share of the market fell to 21 percent from 25 percent, while China's share rose to 11 percent from less than 8 percent. But the U.S. share was estimated to have risen slightly in 2013, the first annual increase since 1999.

The increase in U.S. production in 2013 exceeded the increase of 836,000 barrels a day in 2012. The largest increase before that, of 751,000 barrels, was in 1951, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In percentage terms, the 15.3 percent increase in 2013 was the largest since an 18.9 percent gain in 1940.

U.S. oil production fell steadily from the early 1990s through 2008, but has since risen for five consecutive years, largely because of increased production of shale oil. Not since the late 1960s, when production in Texas was peaking and Alaska oil was beginning to come on stream, has there been such a string of annual increases.

As a result, U.S. oil production climbed to the highest level since 1989, although it remains well below the record production of 9.6 million barrels a day, set in 1970.

The agency forecast that U.S. production would continue to rise in 2014, adding 782,000 barrels, to 8.3 million barrels a day.

If that forecast proves to be accurate, U.S. oil production will have increased 46 percent over the three years from 2011 to 2014. There has not been a three-year increase that large since the years 1921-24, exactly nine decades earlier.

New York Times News Service