"Energy self-sufficiency is now in sight," says energy economist Phil Verleger. He believes that within a decade, the U.S. will no longer need to import crude oil and will be a natural gas exporter. Verleger says all of the previous presidents fighting for energy independence would be quite surprised by how this came about: It's not the result of government policy or drilling by big oil. "This is really the classic success of American entrepreneurs," he says. "These were people who saw this coming, managed to assemble the capital and go ahead."
Small energy companies using such controversial techniques as hydraulic fracturing, along with horizontal drilling, are unlocking vast oil and natural gas deposits trapped in shale in places like Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Texas. North Dakota, for instance, now produces a half-million barrels a day of crude oil, and production is rising.
"This shale gale, I describe it as the energy equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down. This is a big deal," says Robin West, chairman and CEO of PFC Energy, who has been in the energy consulting business for decades. "We estimate that by 2020, the U.S. overall will be the largest hydrocarbon producer in the world; bigger than Russia or Saudi Arabia," he says."