A pumpjack sits on the outskirts of town at dawn in the Permian Basin oil field in Texas. Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The Energy Department's statistical arm projected Tuesday that rising U.S. crude oil production will level off between 11 million and 12 million barrels per day, a level that's higher than the 2017 version of the annual long-term forecast but could nonetheless prove too conservative.

Why it matters: The increased projection in the base, or reference, scenario underscores the surge in oil development from shale plays — the stuff tapped by fracking and horizontal drilling — in Texas and elsewhere.

Last year's version of the Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook
— a huge collection of use and production projections for many energy sources through 2050 — projected a plateau of 10 million to 11 million daily barrels.

The reasoning for the boost: "Lower 48 onshore tight oil development continues to be the main driver of total U.S. crude oil production, accounting for about 65% of cumulative domestic production in the Reference case over the projection period 2017 to 2050," it states. However, it plateaus as "development moves into less productive areas and as well productivity declines," EIA adds.

Worth noting: U.S. crude production is already around 10 million barrels per day. The annual EIA report contains more and less aggressive scenarios, including what could be a vastly larger boost in U.S. production as shale development surges and becomes an even more dominant share of national output.

  • The "high oil and gas resource and technology case" projects U.S. crude oil production rising through the forecast period, climbing to the 15 million barrel range around 2030 and rising into what appears to be the 18-19 million barrel range by 2050.

Go deeper: The whole report — which explores coal, natural gas, renewables and more — is available here.

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