U.S. energy analysts have drawn a rosy picture for one of the country's largest shale areas, predicting more reserves of crude oil.
Analysts with energy research firm Wood Mackenzie told the Houston Chronicle Thursday oil producers eventually could pump 21 billion barrels of crude out of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota -- nearly three times the government's estimate of recoverable reserves in the region.
The analysts said the government's forecast of 7.4 billion barrels of light sweet crude was far too low, because it assumed oil companies would cluster their wells in the same density as they do now through the decade.
Wood Mackenzie said technology advances would enable North Dakota operators to extract more oil from the region.
Bakken is the country's second biggest shale oil play, with a daily output of about 1.1 million barrels of crude. Ranking ahead of it is the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, which produces 1.3 million barrels of oil per day.
Wood Mackenzie recently projected U.S. daily oil production would rise to nearly 9 million barrels in 2020, a threefold increase from 2010.
The optimistic forecast came two weeks after the federal government downgraded the reserves at a massive shale formation in California.
The United States and Canada are the only countries that have successfully commercialized the unconventional shale resources. But their estimates of shale reserves are often open to adjustment and revision because of technical difficulties.
The International Energy Agency said last November the U.S. was expected to become the world's top oil producer by 2015 due to its shale boom, surpassing current leaders Russia and Saudi Arabia.