The U.S. Energy Boom: Highlights Of The Year And What's Ahead

The big energy story of 2013 was a boom in domestic oil production, especially in North Dakota. NPR's Arun Rath talks with national correspondent Jeff Brady, who saw the boom firsthand during a recent reporting trip to the state.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Back in the U.S., 2013 could go down as the year we retire a very old narrative: The country is running out of oil. Not anymore. In fact, the opposite. Today, there are drilling booms.

NPR's Jeff Brady recently returned from a reporting trip to the state with the biggest boom: North Dakota.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Yeah. That drilling boom is changing western North Dakota in dramatic ways. Here's just one little example. A few weeks back, I was driving from Williston to Watford City. And normally, that's just a rural stretch of highway. You don't see anybody else. But I got caught in stop-and-go traffic there. There were miles of pickup trucks and tractor trailers, and they were all headed out to well sites in the morning. There are thousands of oil wells being drilled into what's called the Bakken Shale formation deep underground.

And oil companies are extracting fortunes using some of those controversial technologies we've all heard about like fracking. And this is interesting. The U.S. Department of Energy maintains a list of oil-producing states. And North Dakota has been slowly moving up that list in recent years, past Louisiana, past Oklahoma, and even Alaska. Now, North Dakota is the number two oil-producing state in the country just behind Texas.

RATH: Well, it seems to make it then kind of an interesting, maybe an ironic year to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, which, of course, raised a lot of concerns about importing oil from countries that aren't necessarily too friendly to America. What does all this new domestic oil drilling mean for imports?

BRADY: Well, you know, imports are actually declining. It's been interesting to watch another set of Energy Department statistics. One chose imports and the other domestic production. And this past year was the first time in almost two decades that the production number was higher than the import number. In November, the country was importing about 7.8 million barrels of crude a day and producing about eight million barrels a day.

Now, imports, they're not going away any time soon, but at the same time there's something else pretty interesting happening. Americans are buying less gasoline. They're driving less. And when they do, they're driving more efficient cars. So this trend is - it started during the recession. And despite just a little uptick in gasoline purchases recently, it's continued.

RATH: So you would expect with demand decreasing and supply going up, that would mean the prices at the pump would be going down. Is that what we're seeing?

BRADY: You know, not really. Gasoline prices have remained about the same over the past year. Regular gas is selling on average for just under 3.30 a gallon. But this leads us to what likely will be a big story in 2014. The oil industry says it plans to lobby Congress and President Obama to lift the country's ban on oil exports. Those were put in place in reaction to that OPEC oil embargo in 1973.

And the big industry group, the American Petroleum Institute, is making a financial argument here, essentially for open markets. But there are some who say that this export ban could violate free-trade agreements that the U.S. has signed. So we're going to hear a lot about oil exports and whether they should be allowed again this next year.

RATH: Jeff Brady covers energy issues for NPR. Jeff, thank you.

BRADY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: This is NPR News.

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