The U.S. Energy Information Administration says the country "likely" passed Russia as the world's top producer in recent weeks. It also reported that the U.S. passed Saudi Arabia in oil production earlier this year.
The energy information administration, which is part of the Department of Energy, released a report on September 12. The agency said its findings were based on oil production estimates.
If those estimates are right, it would mark the first time since 1973 that the United States has led the world in oil production, based on government records.
The energy administration and another organization, the International Energy Agency, had predicted that the U.S. would not pass Russia and Saudi Arabia until 2019. The agency is an international group of oil-consuming nations.
An increase thanks to fracking
U.S. production rose in recent years partly because of technology, including hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
Fracking is the use of chemicals, sand, water and high pressure to break up rock formations deep below ground. This releases more oil and natural gas.
Not everyone approves of fracking, however. Opponents say that fracking results in harmful substances entering groundwater. They also say it has increased the number of earthquakes in states like Oklahoma and Texas.
The U.S. energy agency estimated that in August 2018, the United States produced an average of 10.9 million barrels a day. By comparison, Russia produced about 10.8 million barrels a day, with Saudi Arabia producing around 10.4 million barrels.
The agency expects the U.S. will continue to produce more oil than Russia and Saudi Arabia for the rest of this year and through 2019.
U.S. oil production has increased since 2011. The rate of oil drilling slowed after oil prices started falling in 2014. However, prices rose again as operators learned to produce oil more efficiently and oil prices recovered.
The U.S. agency said its information on Russian production comes mostly from the Russian Ministry of Oil, and also oil companies and industry publications. The agency said numbers on Saudi production are based on its own estimates.
The United States led the world in oil production for much of the past century. However, both the Soviet Union and later Saudi Arabia passed the U.S. during the 1970s. Up until the past few years, it seemed unlikely the U.S. would ever become the top producer again.
Daniel Yergin wrote a book called "The Prize," which is a history of the oil industry. He says the increase in U.S. production helped avoid a severe shortage of oil that would have caused prices to rise even higher.
I'm Phil Dierking.