A new drilling technique is enabling oil & gas companies to tap into large quantities of oil previously out-of-reach oil in the western United States, according to a report by the Associated Press. The AP says this technological breakthrough may help reverse a two-decade decline in domestic production of crude.

Billions of dollars are being invested to reach oil deposits in North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, the AP reports that oil executives and analysts believe the new fields could yield as much as two million barrels of oil a day — more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.

This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent over the next five years. And within 10 years, the AP says it could help reduce oil imports by more than half.

The drilling process used to tap these oil reservoirs is similar to the hydraulic fracturing technique currently being employed to extract natural gas from shale rock formations throughout the United States. In natural gas applications, the process involves drilling down and horizontally into rock, then pumping water, sand and chemicals into the hole to crack the shale and allow gas to flow up. Because oil molecules are sticky and larger than gas molecules, the AP says engineers thought the process wouldn”t work to squeeze oil out fast enough to make it economical. But drillers learned how to increase the number of cracks in the rock and use different chemicals to free up oil at low cost.

To read the full AP report on this story, CLICK HERE.