The danger isn't the world running out of oil - it's running out of demand for it
Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30
Just as the energy industry has brushed aside concerns that the world could run out of oil, industry executives now believe it is demand, rather than supply, that is nearing its apex.
In 1985, Ian Taylor, today the chief executive of the world's largest oil trader Vitol, was part of a team at Royal Dutch Shell that forecast oil prices would rise five fold to $125 a barrel in 2015 as global reserves were expected to become more scarce. Now he says it is unlikely to ever reach those levels again.
Oil stands at around $50 a barrel, having more than halved since June 2014 after global supplies dramatically rose due in large part to the US shale oil boom but also due to the unlocking of huge offshore reserves in Brazil, Africa and Asia.
"We all talk about 'peak supply' and maybe with shale that is becoming a disabused concept. I have begun feeling that... we are coming to peak demand towards 2030," Taylor said last week, at The Economist Energy Summit in London. "I believe we may not see $100 (a barrel) ever again," Taylor said.
Such forecasts come at a time when oil companies have slashed billions off their budgets and scrapped more than $200bn of oil and gas projects to cope with the sharp price drop.
Lower demand could wreck the finances of Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela, which depend on high oil prices to fund public spending, but would be an overall boon for the world. Most people live in countries - whether rich like the US, middle-income like China or poor like Bangladesh - that consume more energy than they produce.
The United Nations believes sharp reductions in fossil fuel use are also necessary to protect the earth from catastrophic effects of climate change.
Higher fuel efficiencies for cars and the industry's switch towards less-polluting sources of energy such as gas, biofuels, solar and wind power, mean that oil demand could plateau in the coming decades. Fossil fuel consumption could be further clipped if governments tighten regulations in order to combat climate change at a UN conference in Paris next month.
BP said last week that the world is no longer at risk of running out of oil or gas for decades ahead. Existing technology could unlock so much fossil fuel that global reserves would almost double by 2050 to 4.8 trillion barrels of oil equivalent (boe). With new exploration and technology, the resources could leap to 7.5 trillion boe, it said.
'Peak demand' does not mean people will consume less energy overall. On the contrary, global energy consumption is expected to soar in the coming decades as the planet's population grows and Asian and African economies develop.
But while the world's total energy consumption is set to rise by more than one-third from 2012 to 2040, oil's share is set to shrink from 31pc to 26pc, according to the International Energy Agency. It forecasts global oil demand to rise by around 0.5pc per year through to 2040 to 103.9m barrels per day, driven by non-OECD countries.
The change is expected to hit Western economies first, with demand set to go back to levels last seen in 1966, according to Dev Sanyal, BP's executive vice president, Strategy and Regions, who said peak demand is a challenge. (Reuters)