The Next Oil Shock; Price Too Low to Supply Demand over Time

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 26, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Next Oil Shock; Price Too Low to Supply Demand over Time


Byline: Richard W. Rahn, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The price of oil soon will soar again. The present price of a barrel of oil, $50 or so, is below the price needed to meet current demand for a sustained period of time, and it is well below the price needed to meet global demand as the world economy rebounds.

In addition, with the U.S. Federal Reserve System greatly expanding the money supply - which will continue because of the explosion in government spending - the dollar is falling against other currencies; and given that global oil is priced in dollars, the price of oil will rise in dollar terms, just as it did two years ago.

About 65 percent of the demand for global oil can be supplied at a price of $35 per barrel. Another 20 percent of demand can be supplied at a price of $35 to $60 per barrel, but the remaining 15 percent will only be supplied over the long run at prices of $60 to perhaps $130 per barrel. Oil, like all commodities, is priced at the margin, which means the price of all oil demanded by the market is equal to the price that producers can get for the last barrel of oil they sell.

It takes considerable time to greatly increase oil production, and it also takes time to reduce production. Despite the global recession, oil production capacity is only slightly above demand, so that any significant supply disruption - a war in an oil-producing area, pipelines being blown up or tankers sunk, etc. - will almost immediately create a supply shock, causing the oil price to soar again.

Because of the drop in oil prices during the last eight months, high-cost production facilities are being shut down, including low-output wells, some offshore production, Canadian oil sands, etc. When the oil price shoots back up, it will take time to get these production facilities back on line.

Oil prices will almost certainly be much higher in real terms (inflation adjusted) during the next 15 years because world energy demand is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 1.6 percent between now and 2030. More than 80 percent of the increase in energy demand during the next two decades is expected to come from China, India and the Middle East.

Low-cost oil production is declining sharply, as the old easy-to-produce fields are being rapidly depleted. There are still huge potential oil supplies, but most of it will be in very expensive, deep-sea areas, or in oil sands (Canada) or oil shale (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah), all of which are much more costly to produce. Biofuels are also expensive and compete with food for land on which to produce them.

If suddenly it were announced that a miracle electric battery - one that could power a full-sized automobile at high speed for more than 300 miles and could be quickly recharged - had been developed, what impact do you think it would have on the price of gasoline next week? …

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