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Saudi Arabia, look out. US could lead oil production.

Could the US leapfrog Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer? US oil production is set to jump 7 percent this year, inching one step closer to Saudi Arabia's spot as the global leader. 

By Contributor / October 24, 2012

In this July 2011 file photo, Austin Mitchell, left, and Ryan Lehto, work on an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D. U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer, the Associated Press reports.

Gregory Bull/AP/File

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A production boom may soon thrust the US ahead of Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil producer, the Associated Press reports.

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US production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is set to jump 7 percent in 2012, making it the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.

What's causing the jump? A combination of factors. The 2010 BP oil spill halted production in the Gulf of Mexico; now, oil companies are returning. New drilling techniques allow oil companies to tap huge shale formations in North Dakota and Texas. High oil prices have given US drillers the necessary cash flow to invest in new techniques and explore sources of oil previously thought unobtainable.  

Should the US overtake Saudi Arabia as the top oil producer, it would be the first time the US has led the world in 10 years. Saudi Arabia has been the world's biggest producer of oil since 2002. Russia has occupied the No. 2 position since 2003, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

While the news bodes well for an energy independent future, Americans can still expect high prices at the gas pump and continued oil imports for years to come. The US Energy Department forecasts an average daily crude and liquid hydrocarbon production of 11.4 million barrels for 2013, well shy of the amount needed to satisfy American demand and Saudi Arabia's output of 11.6 million barrels.

In 2011, the US consumed an estimated 18.9 million barrels per day, according to the EIA.

Persistent turbulence in the Middle East continues to have a negative impact on gas prices, as questions linger over unrest in Syria and sanctions on Iran.

It's still unclear if – or  how – the production boom will affect the presidential election. Energy independence and the future of oil and gas production has served as a point of contention in the 2012 presidential debates.

Private oil and natural gas companies have thrived in recent years, despite what Republican nominee Mitt Romney says is the Obama administration's obstructionist role in the development of fossil fuel sources.

President Obama points to the production boom as a success of his administration's "all-of-the-above" approach. The president promotes an expansion in domestic oil and gas production coupled with federal investment in new, clean energy sources.

But politicians and analysts on both sides of the aisle agree that the oil and gas production boom is a game changer – one that many hope will provide a much-needed boost for a stagnant US economy.

"It's the most important change to the economy since the advent of personal computers pushed up productivity in the 1990s," economist Philip Verleger, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics, told the Associated Press.

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