The U.S. is in the middle of an energy production boom, thanks to new oil discoveries like the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas along with new technologies for extracting oil and gas like fracking.  According to a recent Fox News report, U.S. oil production reached a record high in 2012, at over 6.4 million barrels per day.  That's prompted Middle Eastern countries to take note.  One of Saudi Arabia's top investors recently sent a letter to that country's oil minister expressing concerns about "big discoveries in shale gas extraction" in America and Asia that could threaten the demand for Saudi oil.  The investor is urging Saudi leaders to diversify their economy, which he says is 92% reliant on oil.

Those concerns may be a bit overblown according to some experts.  Houston oil and gas attorney J. Wayne Ballew with Looper Reed & McGraw says the Saudis are reacting to unsubstantiated reports.  "We hear stories that the United States is going to be energy independent by 2023, or within the next 10 or 20 years," he says.  "That would be something of a threat to the Saudi royal family, I presume."  However, he cautions that many of these new oil and gas discoveries are still years from making it to the market.  "We're still, to some degree, in the infancy of the production of those new productive fields."  Thus, he says it's far too early to predict if, much less when, the U.S. will achieve full energy independence.

In the meantime, Ballew is encouraged by the current boom.  "I think you'll start seeing a little more of a push here within the U.S. for the ability to export natural gas," he says.  That, he explains, could lead to America becoming a net-exporter of oil and gas rather than a net-importer.  Still another boost to North American energy production could come if the Obama Administration approves the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.  The bottom line, according to Ballew, is that a new era of energy is here to stay.  "As long as technology continues to advance, I think it's sustainable from the standpoint that we'll be unlocking reserves that weren't heretofore able to be produced," he says.