U.S. Oil Producers Set Growth Record in 2014

Published May 4, 2015

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports U.S. oil production grew by more than one million barrels per day in 2014, the largest yearly increase since recordkeeping began more than a century ago.

Most of the new oil production came from shale deposits opened up by the ongoing hydraulic fracturing revolution.

Until fracking took hold, the United States had suffered a steady decline in oil production. Oil production fell every year but one between 1985 and 2008, and imports of oil steadily increased.

 This trend has changed dramatically due to sustained high oil prices that have encouraged the development of new technologies combined with fracking. U.S. oil production has increased for seven straight years, with annual increases topping 16 percent in both 2013 and 2014. Oil imports declined to levels not seen since the 1970s.

Peak Oil Embarrasment

Commenting on the production growth, Robert Bradley, Jr., founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research, said, “The new era of conventional crude oil production has made yesterday’s optimists, including me, look too pessimistic. But it has profoundly embarrassed the peak-oil crowd.

“Instead of ‘we’re running out of oil,’ the new outcry is, ‘we must leave it in the ground,'” Bradley said.

EIA reports U.S. crude oil production increased by 1.2 million barrels per day in 2014, the largest yearly volume increase since recordkeeping began in 1900. Most of the increased oil production came from fields being fracked in New Mexico, North Dakota, and Texas.

The increase in oil production was the largest in more than six decades. Although crude oil production increases regularly surpassed 15 percent annually in the first half of the 20th century, those changes were smaller in volume because production levels were much lower then. 

Obama’s Benign Neglect

Alex Epstein, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, attributes the growth in oil production partially to a fortuitous inattention by President Barack Obama.

“There are two basic reasons for the rise of U.S. oil production,” Epstein said. “The first is the amazing ingenuity of the oil industry, which has figured out how to take useless rocks and turn them into life-giving fuel.

“The second is the freedom to develop that oil, due to lack of attention by the Obama administration to the shale revolution,” said Epstein. “In 2007, candidate Obama said, ‘The age of oil must end in our time’ and pledged to fight ‘the tyranny of oil.’ Fortunately for all of us, Obama was ignorant of the shale revolution and thus could make no effort to stop it. It is a scary state of affairs when energy progress depends on the ignorance of our anti-development political officials.”

The substantial decline in oil prices since July 2014 may result in lower oil production in 2015, although it had little effect on production at the end of 2014. Thus far, production is still relatively high, as the industry has been adapting to lower prices with increased efficiency. 

H. Sterling Burnett ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.