The oil industry isn't often known as a growth sector. However, thanks to new technologies and techniques, producers in the U.S. have the tools to unlock an unimaginable gusher of oil in the coming years. Consequently, several expect to grow their oil production at a breakneck pace this year, with Centennial Resource Development (NASDAQ:CDEV), Diamondback Energy (NASDAQ:FANG), and WPX Energy (NYSE:WPX) among the fastest-growing producers in the country. Their rapidly growing output, when combined with an improvement in oil prices, should enable these oil stocks to grow earnings at an accelerated clip, which could send their shares skyward in 2018. That's upside growth investors won't want to overlook.

Leading the pack

Centennial Resource Development has been increasing its oil production at a remarkable rate, with output up 21% during the third quarter alone to 21,108 barrels per day. It's just getting started, though, since last year was only its first full year in operations. By 2020, it expects to produce an average of 60,000 barrels of oil per day, which represents a peer-leading 71% compound annual growth rate.

Oil pumps working the the background near a drilling rig.

Image source: Getty Images.

The reason Centennial is growing so fast is that its CEO is unabashedly bullish on oil, believing that the industry won't be able to meet the market's demands in the coming years, which should send crude prices even higher. That's why his company hasn't hedged any production because he wants to make sure Centennial is one of the biggest winners if crude keeps rising.

Set up for torrid growth

Diamondback Energy was on pace to boost its oil and gas production by a jaw-dropping 80% last year thanks in part to a needle-moving acquisition at the end of 2016. That was well ahead of the 60% growth rate it initially anticipated because recently drilled wells produced exceptional results.

While Diamondback Energy won't grow quite as fast this year, it should still increase output quickly. It noted in the third quarter that it planned to use 10 drilling rigs in 2018 assuming $50 oil, which could fuel double-digit output growth each quarter. But with oil now in the $60s, it will have the cash flow to add more rigs. In fact, it has the resource base to handle 15 to 18 drilling rigs, which could fuel "unprecedented growth" in the coming years if crude holds up, according to CEO Travis Stice.

Pump jack backlit by the setting sun after the rain.

Image source: Getty Images.

On pace for another big year

WPX Energy has rapidly increased its oil output over the past few years and was on its way to producing 40% to 45% more oil in 2017 than it did in 2016. Meanwhile, it expects oil output to rise another 40% to 45% in 2018, which is a growth rate the company believed it could achieve within cash flow when crude was still in the $50s.

That plan puts the company on pace to generate free cash flow by 2019. However, with oil now well into the $60s, WPX could start producing excess cash this year. The company would have a variety of options for that extra money, including fueling faster growth, paying down debt, or sending some back to investors via dividends or share buybacks. Any of those options could help further enhance shareholder value in 2018, and provide more fuel to push the stock higher. 

The formula for big-time profit growth

Rising oil prices alone should fuel improved profitability across the oil sector this year. Fast-growing oil companies like Centennial, Diamondback, and WPX would enjoy accelerated earnings growth as the improved pricing spreads across more barrels. That's why investors who are looking for growth stocks for 2018 shouldn't overlook the potential that these high-octane oil stocks could fuel big-time returns this year.