Midday Report: China Set to Surpass US as Top Importer of Oil

China oil imports
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China could soon overtake the U.S. as the biggest importer of oil in the world. The oil cartel OPEC says the shift could happen as early as next year.

The reason is that the shale oil boom here at home has dramatically increased domestic production, reducing the need to import as much oil as we have been for the past several decades.

The U.S. based Energy Information Administration says Chinese imports could top 6 million barrels a day this year, while U.S. imports fall below that level next year.

Will this mean lower prices at the pump for American drivers? Probably not, say the experts.

Shale oil – produced from the controversial process known as fracking – is expensive, so prices are not likely to move dramatically.

However, the U.S. will be less reliant on other nations, especially OPEC countries. And that should make the U.S. less susceptible to big price swings when there is geopolitical unrest elsewhere around the world, or when OPEC tries to manipulate prices.

The U.S. has been the top oil importer for the past four decades, ever since domestic onshore production started to decline. But oil imports fell by 21 percent last year, as the U.S. produced 84 percent of its energy needs.

Domestic production is ramping up so quickly that the IEA now forecasts the U.S. will produce more oil than Saudi Arabia by 2020.

And while the U.S. reduces it dependence on OPEC, China is moving in the opposite direction. It's requiring more and more imported energy to power its factories and cars, and economists say demand will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.

As for prices, crude oil has tumbled this week, as worldwide demand has weakened. And the price we pay at the gas station has stabilized. AAA says the national average for a gallon of regular now stands at $3.63. That's down 10 cents from a month ago, and down 31 cents from last year at this time.