U.S. tight oil production is expected to continue to rise through 2030 and should reach more than 10 million barrels per day in the early 2030s, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Tight oil production, which became the more common form of oil production in 2015, reached 6.5 million barrels per day in the United States in 2018 and accounted for 61% of total U.S. production.
Tight oil production is expected to increase as the industry continues to improve drilling efficiencies and reduce costs, which makes developing tight oil resources less sensitive to oil prices than in the past, according to the EIA. How much the production increases depends on several factors, including the quality of resources, technology and operational improvements that will increase productivity and reduce costs and market prices.
The development of tight oil resources, primarily in the Permian Basin in western Texas and eastern New Mexico, have contributed to the recent growth in U.S. crude oil production. Three tight oil plays in the Permian Basin — the Spraberry, Bone Spring and Wolfcamp — accounted for 41% of U.S. tight oil production in 2018. About half of the tight oil production through 2050 is expected to come from the three plays. The Bakken and Eagle Ford plays are projected to account for 19% and 17%, respectively, of tight oil production through 2050.
The EIA developed several projections based on changes in oil prices, resources and technology advancement. In the high resource and technology case, U.S. tight oil production is projected to rise through the mid-2040s, and total U.S. oil production is expected to reach 19 million barrels per day in 2050. By comparison, in the low resource and technology case, tight oil production will rise through the early 2020s, and total U.S. oil production is expected to fall to about 8 million barrels per day in 2050. In the high oil price case, West Texas Intermediate spot prices will rise to $208 per barrel by 2050, from more than $100 per barrel in 2019.
As a result, total oil production will increase to nearly 18 million barrels per day by 2024 before falling to 13 million barrels per day in 2050. In the low oil price case, oil prices are expected to average less than $50 per barrel through 2050 and lead total production to rise more slowly, from 10.9 million barrels per day in 2018 to about 13 million barrels per day in 2022, with tight oil production in 2050 falling to 6 million barrels per day, or 69% of total U.S. oil production.