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Jul 13 2014

Demand for OPEC oil seen to taper off

By Syed Rashid Husain A defining moment has arrived!

World's top crude consumer, the United States, is now the world's top producer too, overtaking Russia and the OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia. In the first quarter of 2014, the United States extracted more than 11 million barrels of crude per day, compared with Russia' daily output of 10.53 million bpd and Saudi Arabia's 9.45 million bpd, Bloomberg reported citing Energy Intelligence Group. And the US was already declared in 2010 as the world's largest natural gas producer.

Last month the Paris-based International Energy Agency too conceded that the US was the biggest producer of oil and natural gas liquids.

And the situation is set to persist for some time now. "It's very likely the US stays as No. 1 producer for the rest of the year" as (the US) output is set to increase (further) in the second half, Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at the Bank of America Corp. said.

Production growth outside the US has been lower than the bank anticipated, keeping global oil prices high, he added. The US will consolidate its position as the world's biggest producer in the coming months, if returning Libyan supply limits the need for Saudi barrels, Julian Lee, an oil strategist writing for Bloomberg News First Word said.

US crude oil production has been rising steadily since 2008. Next year it is likely to hit its highest level since 1972. US output has jumped from 5million barrels per day in 2008 to 7.4 million bpd last year and is expected to average 8.5 million this year and 9.3 million next year, according to the EIA, the analytical arm of the US Department of Energy.

This boom, along with a rise in natural gas liquids production, has dramatically lowered US imports - reducing its dependence on oil producers. The share of US liquid fuels consumption met by net imports, which went down from 60 percent in 2005 to 33 percent in 2013 is now expected to fall further significantly to 22 percent in 2015 - the lowest level since 1970.

Significant investment in the energy sector has helped spur the domestic US output. Annual investment in oil and gas in the country touched a record $200 billion - some 20 percent of the country's total private fixed-structure spending for the first time, Blanch was quoted as saying. This has definitely been a key factor in helping Washington turn the tide on the energy front. The long-cherished US energy independence seems very much in grasp - finally.

Interestingly though, despite the tremendous growth in US output, market prices have not tumbled. Most now say bad news, is often good news for the oil industry. The same seems to be holding true at this stage. "The shale production story is bigger than Iraqi production, but it hasn't made the impact on prices you would expect," said Blanch. "Typically such a large energy supply growth should bring prices lower, but in fact we're not seeing that because the whole geopolitical situation outside the US is dreadful."

The developments have interesting, political and strategic implications. Markets are in flux - adjusting to new realities. New players are beginning to assert, pushing traditional, long-term players to a somewhat secondary role - at least for the time being. The US shale oil boom has eroded the market share of OPEC in recent years and the trend is likely to continue next year too, IEA said in a recent report. Demand for OPEC crude would edge down in 2015 to 29.8 million bpd, from 29.9 million this year. That is slightly below the level pumped by the group in June at just over 30 million bpd, the IEA reported.

And this lower call on OPEC crude is despite the projection that the global oil demand growth will accelerate next year. However, the IEA believes the growth in demand will again be met by rising supplies from the US and Canada, eroding OPEC's market share further. The IEA expected global oil demand to grow by 1.4 million barrels per day next year, up from 1.2 million this year. And most of it would be met by non-OPEC supply growth as it is to average 1.2 million bpd next year, in line with expansions in 2013 and 2014. "The US and Canada remain the mainstays for growth, but sources are expected to be more diverse than in 2014."

In view of the growing US supplies, the OPEC too is cutting forecast of demand for its own oil by 300,000 barrels a day next year. Demand for crude from the 12 OPEC members should remain at an estimated 29.7 million bpd through 2014, but drop to 29.4 million bpd in 2015, OPEC oil report underlined.

In the meantime, the producers' group is also conceding that supplies from non-OPEC producers is expected to grow by 1.3 million bpd to 57 million bpd in 2015 at a time when the global demand for crude is estimated to be 92.3 million bpd, up from 2014 by 1.2 million bpd. Demand growth would hence be met by non-OPEC output growth, the OPEC monthly report underlined too. Slowing Chinese economy is also going to impact the demand growth.

Others seem to be concurring. Yoshikazu Kobayashi, the oil group manager at the fossil fuels and electric power industry unit of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, told Platts last week that next year 1.4 million bpd the rise in oil demand would be less than the projected rise in supply during the year.

Consequent to all this, OPEC share in meeting this demand growth would be minimal - if at all.

In the longer term, though the focus appears reverting to long-term stakeholders - OPEC. The US will lose its top-producer ranking at the start of the 2030s, the World Energy Outlook compiled by the IEA said in November. US oil output will surge to 13.1 million barrels a day in 2019 and plateau thereafter, the agency then said.

The crude world has changed - at least for the short to medium term. And even beyond, other issues continue to plague the crude outlook. Would crude continue to be the dominant source in the global energy mix then is open to debate. And all this has geopolitical connotations too. The oil-producing belt will need to adjust to this emerging reality. Their sphere of influence, courtesy the black gold, is getting impacted - rather adversely - at this stage.

© The Saudi Gazette 2014

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