WASHINGTON -- The U.S. will produce more oil than it imports beginning late this year for the first time in 18 years, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday.

Helped by a surge in shale-based output, monthly crude production has pushed past seven million barrels a day and could reach eight million barrels a day by the beginning of 2014.

Imports meanwhile have dropped below eight million barrels a day and should fall below domestic output by the end of 2013, the EIA said.

The EIA said that based on current projections, by the end of 2014 the U.S. could be producing two million barrels a day more than it imports, a huge turnaround in the country that, until China passed it just recently, was the world's largest oil importer.

The "unconventional" recovery of oil from dense rock strata like shale has driven a leap in domestic production in the past three years.

"This projected change is primarily because of rising domestic crude oil production, particularly from shale and other tight rock formations in North Dakota and Texas," the EIA said.

Average production rose from 5.5 million barrels a day for the full year 2010 to 6.5 million last year and is projected to average 7.3 million this year.

Imports meanwhile have fallen from 9.2 million barrels a day in 2010 to a forecast average of 7.6 million for this year.