U.S. Oil Investments


The U.S. is the single largest consumer of oil in the world. It also happens to be the single largest importer of oil in the world, but the country would hardly be able to sustain its extraordinarily high rate of consumption without massive domestic production capacity.

Domestic oil production

The U.S. Energy Information Administration lists the U.S. as the third-largest producer of petroleum in the world, with nearly 9.7 million barrels per day of oil output as of 2010, including nearly 5.7 million barrels per day of crude oil. EIA data shows that the country has finally managed to reverse the long decline in oil output that has plagued the industry since the mid-1980s.

As of last year, according to the EIA, domestic oil production accounted for as much as 55 percent of all U.S. oil consumption, the highest proportion since 1995. Indeed, this was the first time that imported crude oil fell into the minority since 1995 as well. With more oil companies using new technologies to tap into unconventional resources that were previously impractical or unprofitable, this growth could continue.

U.S. oil wells

This impressive oil production depends on equally massive investment in oil exploration and production, with crews across the country drilling thousands of wells at a cost of billions of dollars.

According to the EIA, there were more than 363,000 active oil wells in the U.S. in 2009, along with another 481,000 active natural gas wells. Little more than a decade before, in 1997, the country actually boasted around 390,000 oil, more than 7 percent above recent levels.

Interest in oil grows

But just because the number of oil wells has fallen from its peak hardly means the U.S. has not been investing in oil wells. In fact, the number of active wells bottomed out in 2004 at somewhat more than 350,000 around the country, a more than 10 percent drop from 1997.

Since that time, the nation added a net of more than 13,000 oil wells over the course of only five years. According to the EIA, these new wells were constructed at an average nominal cost that rose from only $883,000 in 2002 to reach as high as $4 million per well in 2007, growing more than 450 percent. The cost per foot similarly rose more than three and a half times.

Despite these rising costs though, the EIA tracked a dramatic rise in oil drilling. From 2006 to 2011, the number of combined exploratory and development oil wells rose from around 13,400 in 2006 to more than 21,700 in 2011, a jump of nearly 62 percent. Meanwhile, the number of active oil drilling rigs operating in the country has risen sharply from only 274 in 2006 to as high as 984 in 2011, once again three and a half times as many as five years before. In fact, the EIA reports that the U.S. has not come close to this number of active oil drilling rigs at any points through 1988 when the agency began keeping track of those numbers.

It certainly helps that at the same time the number of oil wells being drilled has risen, the number of them coming up dry has fallen noticeably. From 2006 to 2011, the number of exploratory wells coming up dry fell by more than one-third, while development wells saw dry holes drop a more modest 4 percent.