CERA: Low Oil Prices Putting Supply Growth at Risk

Saturday, March 28, 2009      

The collapse in oil prices could end up cutting the growth in future oil supply in half from what would have been anticipated during the high price period, according to a new study from Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), an IHS Inc. company. The Long Aftershock concludes that about 7.6 million barrels per day (mbd) out of total potential future net growth of 14.5 mbd from 2009 to 2014 are “at risk.”

“The inventory of potential new oilfield developments, including fields that could be developed and brought online during the next five years, remains adequate to meet likely demand in the medium- to long-term,” says CERA Senior Director Peter M. Jackson, an author of the report. “This, however, depends on sufficient and timely investment.”

The steep decline in oil prices has, so far, not been matched by an equal decline in the cost of developing new oil fields or in fiscal terms. This means the economics of a significant share of potential future oil supply growth have deteriorated to the point where it risks “being slowed down, postponed, or cancelled altogether. Slower growth in oil production capacity over the next five years could lead to the next period of rising oil prices, but much depends on the recovery of world oil demand – which CERA predicts could fall as much as 2.3 mbd in 2008 and 2009 combined – and the reaction of the oil industry and government policies.

“Investment decisions are rooted in expectations about future value, and while long-term oil price expectations are critical, so are upstream development costs,” added Jackson. “The oil price needed to justify investment will decline as the cost base falls, but this readjustment may take time to unfold, and lower costs will not necessarily equate with increasing activity levels.”

The potential reduction in capacity represents a potentially powerful and long-lasting aftershock following the oil price collapse that began in 2008. Using proprietary databases from CERA and IHS, the report analyzes how global oil supply could be reshaped by lower oil prices and the credit crisis.

“Seven consecutive years of rising oil prices – unprecedented in the history of the oil industry – have come crashing down, thus burying the notion that the commodity price cycle was a historical relic,” the report says. “Instead, old truths have been reaffirmed. Sustained rising oil prices do, eventually, affect demand trends. One-way bets on oil prices eventually go awry.”

The report adds that the “commodity price cycle” is affected “by global economy, geopolitics, and technology. The question today is, as always, ‘When will the next swing in oil price occur?’”

Economic growth and oil demand will be key factors that also affect future supply. After declining in 2008 and 2009, CERA expects oil demand to pick up in 2010. However, “If oil demand does not begin to recover next year, the oil market could face a large surplus of production capacity for the next several years – even if growth in production capacity slows significantly,” said James Burkhard, CERA managing director and an author of the report.

CERA’s analysis finds that, with the fall in oil prices, the pace at which new supply will grow and come onstream is already slowing. Given the global economic climate, short-term corporate cash flow problems will lead to project deferrals throughout the global industry, and financial pressures could spark a possible wave of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. Oil-exploring countries face a large reduction in revenue compared with 2008 as well, and current indications are that as many as 35 new projects in OPEC countries will be delayed significantly.

The Long Aftershock concludes that if all “at risk” supply fails to materialize, world oil production capacity just five years from now could be 101.4 mbd, 7.6 mbd below the pre-collapse CERA projection of 109 mbd for 2014. The report identifies the most likely areas for postponements as new heavy oil and deep water projects and countries with difficult fiscal regimes, as well as a reduction in the investment in new biofuel, gas-to-liquid and coal-to-liquid projects, and high cost discretionary "rank wildcat exploration." Although it will take time for these changes to have an impact on total global oil supply, that impact could prove to be significant.

CERA Chairman and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power Daniel Yergin added, “Future demand is particularly uncertain today because of the impact of high prices on consumers, the depth of the recession, the shifts in the automobile industry, and the introduction of new energy and climate change policies.”

But, the report says, if demand growth is eventually far greater than expected, especially in emerging markets, and current, prolonged low oil prices persist and productive capacity growth stalls even more than expected, a new period of tight supply and strongly rising oil prices could mark the next turn in the oil cycle.


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This article is for information and discussion purposes only and does not form a recommendation to invest or otherwise. The value of an investment may fall. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser. More

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