Daniel Yergin expects US oil drillers to raise output by more than 500,000 barrels a day this year

Dan Yergin: Border tax provides advantage for WTI
Dan Yergin: Border tax provides advantage for WTI

Pulitzer prize–winning oil analyst Daniel Yergin appears to be feeling more confident that American drillers can boost output in 2017.

"We're expecting this year to see U.S. production probably increase from beginning to end by more than 500,000 barrels a day," the vice chairman of IHS Markit told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

As recently as December, Yergin said U.S. drillers could add 300,000 to 500,000 barrels a day if U.S. crude prices stay between $50 and $55 a barrel.

Since then, oil prices have stabilized in that range as OPEC and other oil-producing nations, including Russia, report a high degree of compliance in their effort to remove 1.8 million barrels per day from an oversupplied oil market.

That level allows more U.S. producers — which rely on expensive advance drilling methods — to operate profitably. Monthly U.S. production began falling in May 2015 and began to recover in October.

Yergin's forecast is meaningfully higher than some other forecasts. The International Energy Agency last month projected a gain of 320,000 barrels per day in the United States. IEA releases its next monthly report on Friday.

Oil prices remain at roughly half their peak levels in 2014, but Yergin noted the downturn has forced oil producers to drill more efficiently.

"A dollar invested in 2017 produces about two and a half times as much oil as a dollar invested in 2014, so I think even at these lower prices we're going to see this recovery," he said.

As for OPEC's output cuts, Yergin said he believes the cartel and Russia are sticking to them out of necessity because many oil-dependent nations are wrestling with budget deficits. Past efforts to rein in production have been rife with cheating.