It's official. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United States could be the world's largest oil-producing country in the next seven years.
Based on the report, the United States could surpass all other countries in oil production by 2020. And 10 years later, the country could be energy-independent.
Talk about your 180-degree turnarounds.
For the past several decades, the United States has depended heavily on imports to feed its 19-million-barrel-per-day oil habit. In fact, about one out of every five barrels the United States consumes each day comes from a foreign country.
But if this forecast is accurate, then the United States production could eventually outpace domestic consumption. So instead of bringing in oil, we could be shipping it out.
Is this plausible? You bet it is.
In fact, the whole scenario sounds eerily similar to what has happened in the natural gas market. A decade ago, every credible analyst was convinced that the United States was running out of gas, and energy companies spent billions to construct import terminals.
Now, the United States has more than it can use, and those import facilities are being converted to export hubs to send gas the other direction.
The start of this amazing reversal may have already begun. From 2008 to the end of 2012, crude output in the United States climbed to 7 million barrels per day from 5.1 million, an increase of 37%. That's an extra 1.9 million barrels of oil coming to the surface daily.
The credit goes to unconventional reservoirs like North Dakota's Bakken Shale, where oil production has surged to more than 673,000 barrels per day now from around 3,000 barrels per day in 2000. And that's just one spot -- there are billions of barrels waiting to be recovered in shale formations across the United States.
And that's not even counting offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
The powerful combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (better known as "fracking") has given producers easy access to oil that was once thought of as unreachable. And these new supplies could quickly wean the United States off of foreign oil.
So if this IEA outlook is accurate, then what is the takeaway for investors?
Well, the collapse in natural gas prices resulted from a supply glut. I don't think there will be a repeat with crude oil, but the influx of shale oil could certainly put downward pressure on prices or at least limit some of the upside.
But when you look past the upstream producers, there are entire sectors that could see unprecedented demand for their products and services thanks to North America's oil boom.
More oil exploration means increased demand for offshore and land-based drillers, and more work for pressure pumping and hydraulic fracturing crews.
And all that drilling and fracking requires a lot of water. In fact, for every one of the approximately 11,400 new shale wells drilled per year in the United States, nearly 6.1 million gallons of water is required. That comes out to 70 billion gallons of water needed per year.
That's one reason I'm keeping a close eye on Heckmann (NYSE: HEK), an oilfield-service company that sources, stores and transports fresh water to drilling sites. The company also treats and disposes of used "flowback" water and waste fluids. They get paid for bringing in fresh water and hauling out the waste water -- it's a solid revenue stream that could last up to 30 years.
As I mentioned in a recent article, Heckmann has an active presence in eight shale formations around the country. The company is now firmly entrenched in oil and liquids-rich plays such as the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, the Eagle Ford in Texas and the Utica in Ohio -- all spots where exploration and development activity are buzzing.
To serve these regions, Heckmann has amassed a fleet of 1,200 trucks and 200 rail cars, along with over 100 miles of water collection and delivery pipelines. The company also owns 4,200 frack tanks and 46 liquid waste disposal wells. More recently, it has been constructing facilities designed to treat and recycle used fracking fluids.
Action to Take --> I think the stock could deliver close to a 20% gain by the end of the year, with plenty of upside even after that.
But more important, this new energy boom will have major investing implications for years to come... and now is the time to act, before the big money is made.