US to become a net energy exporter in 2020 for first time in nearly 70 years, Energy Dept says

Key Points
  • The U.S. will start exporting more energy products than it imports next year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says.
  • The country has been a net importer of energy since 1953, according to EIA.
  • U.S. oil production continues to set new records through 2027, when it begins to level off.
The Eagle Ford crude oil tanker sails out of the the NuStar Energy dock at the Port of Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016.
Eddie Seal | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production will make the U.S. a net energy exporter in 2020 — a feat the country has not achieved in nearly 70 years, the Department of Energy's statistics bureau said on Thursday.

The U.S. will start exporting more energy products than it imports as U.S. crude output continues to grow and domestic oil consumption declines, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its latest Annual Energy Outlook. Growing shipments of natural gas and petroleum byproducts will also boost the country's role as a major energy exporter.

The report, which makes projections for the next 50 years, marks the latest revision to EIA's timeline for the U.S. to become more energy independent. Last year, EIA forecast the U.S. would become a net exporter by 2022. In 2017, it said the nation would achieve the status in 2026.

Last week, EIA said the U.S. will start exporting more crude oil and petroleum products than it imports by the final quarter of 2020. After that it would remain a net oil exporter for years to come.

Towards the end of its 50-year forecast period, EIA expects the U.S. to once again start importing more petroleum products than it exports, as economic growth fuels demand for gasoline.

EIA expects U.S. oil production to continue setting new records each year for nearly another decade. The bureau sees American oil output hitting a new annual high through 2027, when booming production starts to level off.

Last year, the nation's drillers pumped an average 10.9 million barrels a day, breaking the annual record going back to 1970. Once production cracks 14 million barrels a day in the coming years, EIA expects the U.S. output to stay above that level through 2040.

Most of the growth will come from U.S. shale fields, where drillers use advanced methods to free oil and gas from rock formations.

The shale drilling will also support a rise in natural gas liquids production, which yields byproducts like ethane, propane and butane. These NGLs are used to make a wide range of products and chemicals, including plastics. EIA says NGL output could account for about a third of total liquids production through 2050.

The U.S. became a net exporter of natural gas in 2017, and EIA sees low gas prices encouraging adoption of the fuel across a number of sectors. EIA expects U.S. natural gas shipments to continue growing, driven by exports of liquefied natural gas, a form of the fuel chilled to liquid form for transport by sea.

The country will remain a net coal exporter through 2050, but EIA does not see shipments growing due to competition from other nations better positioned to serve big importers.