BP's 'Peak Oil' Demand Prediction Falls Flat

BP's 'Peak Oil' Demand Prediction Falls Flat
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File

Always mandatory reading, BP just released its Energy Outlook 2019

It has caused quite a stir again this year.

But, this time the commotion that I see surrounds BP's forecast that the global war on plastics will be the main factor in cutting global oil demand faster than previously expected. As such, for the first time BP's outlook predicted a "peak" in oil use. At 13 million b/d, global petrochemical feedstock is 13% of total oil demand. 

This is part of a growing trend in recent years where BP continues to see "much slower" growth in new oil demand going forward (see Figure).

BP and the oil and gas industry itself, along with major forecasting bodies like the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) and U.S. Department of Energy's EIA, has continued to come under fire for downplaying the impact that electric vehicles and renewables like wind and solar will have on the world's consumption of fossil fuels, particularly since new climate policies are also discouraging their usage.

To illustrate, out of nowhere this year's BP's forecast boomed the number of electric cars around the world by 30 million to 350 million in 2040. Back in 2017, BP only envisioned 100 million electric cars on the world's roads in 2035.

Worth considering as well: "War on plastic may do more harm than good, warns think tank."

BP's forecast for future oil demand has been declining. Source: BP; JTC

Meanwhile, IEA recently reported that it will be those very same petrochemicals that will someday become the largest source of new oil demand, even surpassing transport in the years ahead:

"Petrochemicals are set to account for more than a third of the growth in world oil demand to 2030, and nearly half the growth to 2050, adding nearly 7 million barrels of oil a day by then," IEA, October 2018

This conclusion from IEA is predicated on the reality that oil is inherently ingrained in pretty much all aspects of our lives, even if those aspects are not immediately obvious in the ways that cars or airplanes are. In fact, perhaps the world's greatest energy irony is that oil and petrochemicals themselves are integral to renewables, electric cars, and the overall "energy transition" itself:

"Petrochemicals are particularly important given how prevalent they are in everyday products. They are also required to manufacture many parts of the modern energy system, including solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, thermal insulation and electric vehicles," IEA

From a broader oil use perspective, the truth is that population and income growth are the driving forces behind the demand for energy. The equation is a simple one to remember: more people, making more money, using more energy. As the most vital source of energy in the world, and lacking any sort of significant substitute, the upside for oil is clearly bright.

This is especially true since 6 in every 7 humans living today reside in still developing nations, where oil usage has really just begun. By 2050, the world's economy will add $85 trillion in real GDP, and the global population will surge 30% to over 10 billion humans.

Potential demand is staggering: "What If India And China Used Natural Gas And Oil Like The U.S."

BP is surely correct in noting that meeting the huge challenge of supplying increasing amounts of energy to a rapidly growing world "will undoubtedly require many forms of energy to play key roles." Percentage wise, demand for renewables will be the fastest growing, but that is to be expected because they are coming from the smallest baseline.

For example, wind and solar supply just 3% of the world's energy, versus over 55% oil and gas. And as renewables significantly grow, incremental growth becomes more difficult, particularly since the prospects for wind and solar projects are based on weather factors that are obviously uncontrollable. 

Think of it as a young boy hitting his growth spurt years, only sure to slow down and then stop once he hits his college years.

I must note here that BP has drastically underestimated global oil demand before.

For example, in its Energy Outlook 2011, BP predicted global oil demand at 102 million b/d in 2030. Yet, the world could pass that level this year, and if not, surely will in 2020, or a solid decade before BP thought that we would.

Thus, new oil demand has been surging at twice the rate BP has expected.

To me, oil companies foreseeing the peak of oil without any current evidence is "a bit of a European thing," particularly among the majors themselves that are venturing into more renewables, natural gas, and storage battery investments: "Shell is Wrong: Global Oil Demand Can Only Increase."

The pressure from environmental groups against outwardly being "pro-oil" helps explain why super majors are understandably shying away from taking the position. In contrast, the smaller independent oil and gas producers are quietly marching forward under the very realistic assumption of "more."

From a public relations standpoint, this all makes sense: the upside to loudly being "pro-oil" is tiny, while the downside is immense: you get called very bad names and accused of "denying science." 

Indeed, for a very long time now, baseline reference scenarios both IEA and EIA have been forecasting indicate very strong increases in global oil demand, pretty much continuously for as far out as they model.

To be sure, however, oil's rate of growth will obviously vary, and we could even see declining or flat new demand during some years.

But, the general trend for now is clearly upward. For example, despite retaining a highly saturated market, U.S. oil demand has remained "buoyantly very highover the past 15 years.

And remember that if something ever does happen to lower global oil demand in the absolute sense for any significant amount of time, prices would thereby drop, which would thereby encourage more demand, a never ending conundrum that the anti-oil business continually must confront.

As seen below, in EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2019 released last month, our National Energy Modeling System forecasts that global oil demand stands on very solid footing. More, more, and even more.

Either way, whether it is from me, BP, EIA, or Greenpeace itself, I have learned a very simple truth during my 15-year career in the energy business: one of two things usually happens when you make seriously bold predictions, especially for the longer term.

When the time comes to answer for being wrong, either you are not around to have to respond, or the critics will have forgotten that you ever made the prediction in the first place.

Per EIA, global oil consumption faces non-stop growth. Source: EIA; JTC


Jude Clemente is the Editor at RealClearEnergy.  

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