Navigant Research Blog

Have Oil Prices Peaked?

Scott Shepard — December 30, 2014

Increasing non-Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil supply and waning worldwide demand has resulted in an oil price dive.  The U.S. average retail price of gasoline is now at its lowest point since 2009, and given OPEC’s commitment to maintaining current production rates, the dive has no clear end.  The far-reaching implications of this plunge are explored in the latest issue of NG Market Notes from Navigant’s Global Energy Practice.  The most likely impacts will be on energy sector job growth, oil production expansion, and the hotly debated Keystone XL pipeline.

The historic volatility of oil prices leaves little certainty that current low prices will persist.  However, increased and sustained production capacity growth from non-OPEC sources appears to provide predictable downward pressure.  Given that, OPEC expects that the U.S. oil boom will last until 2020 before declining.  By then, the shale boom enjoyed by the United States is unlikely to be an isolated North American occurrence.

A Spreading Boom

Instead, the technological innovations that have enabled the extraction of tight oil at competitive prices in the United States are likely to migrate to a number of plentiful basins in Russia, China, South America, and elsewhere.  As a result, low prices could become the new norm.  Similarly, thanks to a combination of energy efficiency technologies and tightening government policies, world energy demand is likely to remain sluggish, further sustaining the oil glut.

The BP Statistical Review of World Energy indicates that annual global production of oil was around 4.1 billion metric tons (4.5 billion U.S. tons) in 2013, while Navigant Research’s report, Transportation Forecast: Global Fuel Consumption, projects that the global road transportation sector will consume nearly 1.7 billion metric (1.87 U.S. tons) in 2014, over 41% of production.  In North America, Europe, and some developed Asia Pacific nations, demand from this sector is anticipated to drop significantly from 2014 to 2035.  The increasing use of biofuels, plug-in electric light duty vehicles, natural gas-powered commercial trucks and buses, and national fuel efficiency standards will all contribute to this fall.

The Peak Behind Us

The Navigant Research report anticipates that global oil consumption will continue to grow, despite the above trends.  But that growth is peaking and is entirely dependent on increasing vehicle ownership in rapidly growing economies that already have significant traffic congestion and environmental concerns.

All of this is likely to temper new vehicle sales and increase government adoption of alternative fuels and fuel efficiency standards.  As a result, current low oil prices may not be temporary, after all.  Peak oil price may be reached before peak oil.

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