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BEIJING (AFP) – China is set to overtake the United States as the world’s largest net oil importer from October, according to U.S. figures, due to a combination of rising Chinese demand and increased US production.

Next year, China’s net oil imports will exceed those of the United States on an annual basis and the gap between them will continue to widen, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.

China is already the biggest energy user in the world and the second-largest oil consumer after the United States.

The shift has been driven by steady growth in Chinese demand, increased oil production in the United States, and stagnant or weakening demand in the U.S. market, the EIA said in a report.

A graph on the EIA’s website shows China’s net imports steadily rising, with those of the U.S. falling at a faster rate, and says the crossover point comes in two months’ time.

Growing petroleum production in the U.S. has been largely driven by the increasing use of sometimes controversial hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

The technique uses huge amounts of pressurised water mixed with chemicals to crack open rock and release oil and natural gas, making the exploitation of vast shale hydrocarbon reserves economically viable.

It is changing the world’s energy market but it has been banned in other countries such as France due to environmental concerns.

U.S. annual oil output is expected to rise 28 percent between 2011 and 2014 to nearly 13 million barrels per day, while Chinese production is forecast to grow by six percent over the period, and will stand at just a third of U.S. production in 2014, the EIA said.

Meanwhile, China’s liquid fuel use will increase 13 percent over the period to more than 11 million barrels per day while U.S. demand hovers close to 18.7 million barrels per day.

That is below the United States’ peak consumption level of 20.8 million barrels per day in 2005, the EIA added.

China imported 26.11 million tonnes (186.5 million barrels) of crude oil last month and its exports were a mere 0.17 million tonnes, according to official Beijing figures.

The Asian country’s ascendence to the top of the world’s net oil import rankings will have profound impact, an article carried by the China Business News said on Monday.

“China and the U.S. will no longer be pure competitors in the energy sector — China is likely to import energy in bulk from the U.S.,” wrote commentator Li Dongchao.

“The [rising] independence of U.S. energy will support the rejuvenation of U.S. manufacturing, which will renew competition with Chinese manufacturing,” Li said. “Improving the safety and operational efficiency of the energy industry is a must for ensuring China’s energy and economic security.”

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