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US could overtake Russian oil production

In the last quarter the US produced six million barrels of conventional and unconventional oil a day, more than it has done in 15 years, say experts

In 2011, the US registered the largest increase in oil production of any country outside of OPEC

The US is seeing a dramatic surge in oil and gas production and could overtake the world's biggest producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia, in another decade, a US official said.

"Some of the numbers are eye-popping," Daniel Sullivan, commissioner in Alaska's department of natural resources, told a panel of experts at the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal.

Since 2008, the US added 1.6 million barrels of additional oil, and in 2011, the US registered the largest increase in oil production of any country outside of OPEC, he told hundreds of participants.

These figures compared to a daily output in March of about 9.923 million barrels a day by Saudi Arabia, the largest producer of the OPEC nations, and 9.920 million by Russia, according to the industry data compiler Joint Organizations Data Initiative.

Sullivan said the respected consultancy, PFC Energy, had estimated that by 2020, "the US could be the largest hydrocarbon producer -- that's oil and gas -- in the world, overtaking Russia and Saudi Arabia."

In Alaska alone, the potential off the coast was viewed as the largest of any country, about 40 billion barrels in conventional oil, according to the US Geological Survey.

US President Barack Obama has indicated that offshore oil resources could help mitigate global disruptions in supply, and his administration has tried to craft an energy strategy that balances business interests with environmental concerns, especially in the Arctic.

In November the Obama administration proposed a new plan for offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, including the environmentally sensitive Arctic.

But it did not open up for exploration the politically sensitive Atlantic or Pacific coastlines, or the eastern Gulf of Mexico along the Florida coast.

Unless it faces a last minute challenge, Shell is expected to begin drilling test wells off northern Alaska in July, opening up new possibilities for oil exploration in a previously untapped, pristine environment.

Sullivan argued that the benefits of the shift in energy security could be substantial, especially in terms of growth and jobs for a country where half the US trade deficit is due to imports of oil.

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