“Devastating Oil Crisis” Ahead?
by Joseph Dancy, LSGI Advisors, Inc. | December 1, 2009Print
John Hess, the Chairman of the US independent producer Hess Corporation, issued a warning last month to global governments claiming a “devastating oil crisis” looms large on the horizon if global action is not instituted. In a speech delivered at the Money & Oil conference, Hess said that once economic growth recovers, it is likely the world will return to the market conditions of one year ago:
Oil has moved to a demand-led market where supply is struggling to keep pace. The financial crisis of the past year has reduced demand by 2 million barrels per day, creating excess inventories and lower prices.
While this setback has brought us some welcome breathing room, I believe that it is only temporary. Once economic growth recovers, it is likely we will return to the market conditions of one year ago. The price of $140 per barrel oil was not an aberration; it was a warning. . .
The reality is that an oil crisis is coming that could prove devastating to future economic growth. Given the long lead times of 5-to-10 years from oil discovery to production, we need to act now to avert this outcome. . . In the interest of creating good energy policy, let us offer Truth Serum and establish the facts:
- Fact No. 1: Hydrocarbons. Eighty-five percent of the world’s energy comes from hydrocarbons: 35 percent oil, 30 percent coal and 20 percent natural gas. While renewable energy will be needed and should be encouraged to meet future energy demand and contribute to reducing our carbon footprint, hydrocarbons will fuel the world’s economy for decades to come – and oil will continue to be at the forefront. Renewable energy does not have the scale, timeframe or economics to materially change this outcome.
- Fact No. 2: Oil demand. Once the economy recovers, it is projected to increase by 1 million barrels per day each year. A key driver is world population, estimated to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9 billion by 2050, largely in the developing countries of the world. With a corresponding increase in living standards, hydrocarbon energy, led by oil, will be needed to support economic development. The other driver of demand growth is transportation, which accounts for fifty percent of oil consumption. . .
An interesting statistic to keep in mind: The U.S. has 1000 cars for every 1000 people; China has 10 cars per 1000. As China closes that gap, growth in oil demand will be relentless.
- Fact. No. 3: Oil supply. We are not running out of oil. We have produced 1 trillion barrels so far and estimates are that we have about 3 trillion barrels remaining to recover – 2 trillion barrels of conventional resources and 1 trillion barrels unconventional, such as tar sands and heavy oil. The issue is not our endowment of oil resources. It is the world’s production capacity. Resource additions from exploration last replaced annual production in 1987. Part of the challenge going forward is that the easiest oil to access has been discovered. Costs are increasing for new barrels as producers explore frontiers such as the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and Brazil, where wells can be drilled in . . .
Oil field declines are estimated at more than 5 percent per year. That means we have to add at least 4 million barrels per day each year just to keep production flat. When you add this number to the 1 million barrels per day required to meet demand growth, we need an extra 5 million barrels per day each year going forward. . .
Given these facts, we need to communicate the following message:
(1) Hydrocarbons are here to stay.
(2) Oil demand growth will be unrelenting, increasing 1 million barrels per day each year.
(3) We are not running out of oil but growth of production capacity over the next several years will fall short of the incremental 5 million barrels per day each year that we will need to meet demand.
(4) We will ultimately be at risk of supply rationing demand through skyrocketing prices that will threaten economic stability and prosperity. If we do not act now, we will have a devastating oil crisis in the next 5-to-10 years.
We agree with his premise. For those who follow the industry, the tends in long term supply and long term demand growth in emerging economies raise concerns about the pricing and availability of sufficient crude oil supplies in the future. A large portion of our portfolio is currently invested in the energy sector.
Last month, due to global economic growth, Merrill Lynch raised their 2010 crude oil price forecast this week to $85 per barrel from $75 a barrel. They see global growth above 4% versus a decline in economic growth in 2009. Merrill expects demand for crude oil to increase by 2 million barrels per day to roughly 86.9 million barrels per day.
Energy analyst Neil McMahon of Sanford Bernstein Co. was interviewed on Bloomberg radio last month on the oil market. He forecast $100 a barrel prices within the next 18 months, then generally moving up from there. From an investment standpoint they recommend finding firms that are leveraged to oil prices, can grow production, and are flexible enough to find new fields.
The profile of firms that can meet the Sanford Bernstein benchmarks mean that they are mostly recommending small producers, with high beta, which should outperform in this environment for investors looking for growth. Of course, investor strategy depends on an investors risk tolerance and objectives. Larger energy firms may perform well but smaller firms should perform much better. Many larger firms are having difficulties increasing production.
Global consumption and production has been roughly 85-87 million barrels per day until the recent recession—when in fell back to roughly the 84 million barrel per day level. Goldman Sachs also raised their forecast recently for reasons noted above. The International Energy Agency last month increased global demand estimates to 86.2 million barrels per day in 2010, up from estimated average demand in 2009 of 84.9 million barrels per day.
The long term trends in the energy sector favor the bulls in our opinion.
© 2009 Joseph Dancy