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July 12, 2013

OPEC Sees Oil Demand Decline Again

by Joe DeCapua

Demand for crude oil from OPEC countries is expected to decline again next year, as independent producers, especially the United States, increase their supplies.


Times are gradually changing for OPEC, the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries. Its own surveys show how the global market is shifting as oil production increases.

“They calculate supply from non-OPEC producers and they calculate global demand and as a result they calculate what’s left of the pie for OPEC. The problem is what’s left of the pie is shrinking next year because supply from independent producers – in particular the United States, but not only – is rising faster than demand. So, essentially that leaves less of the market for OPEC next year,” said Richard Swan, editorial director for global oil news at Platts, a leading provider of information on energy, petrochemicals, metals and agriculture.

OPEC estimates demand for its crude oil next year will be around 29.6 million barrels a day. Swan said that’s about one million barrels a day below current production.

“Which is potentially problematic for them. It implies that at current production rates they’re over-supplying the market,” he said.

The most important thing for OPEC, he said, is the price of barrel of oil.

“It’s the single figure which determines their export revenues and actually is the main contributor their budget, so that their governments have revenues in order to spend money. Now the price of oil has been very steady, so they’re happy with that.”

However, Swan said OPEC is not as happy when it looks at other factors.

“If they look without the price, the actual supply/demand fundamentals are not great because they’ve got this boom in production going on coming out of the shale oil in the United States and also the heavy oil sands in Canada and these kinds of developments. They’re going up so fast that they’re talking all of the incremental demand in the market. So that market share argument is not great for OPEC, but as long as the price is over a hundred dollars they’ll be happy,” he said.

Non-OPEC production is expected to significantly rise next year by about 1.2 million barrels a day. The U.S. and Canada will produce nearly all of that. The U.S. oil boom is due in large part to the hydraulic fracturing technique, commonly called fracking. It pumps chemicals underground to fracture shale formations, releasing more natural gas and oil. The industry says the method is safe for the environment, but critics say it can poison drinking water.

Swan said, “I think the U.S. has been at the forefront of fracking in almost every sense. It’s been at the forefront of the technological advances by the oil companies and maybe of the environmental fears being raised by people as well.”

He said there are estimates of significant shale oil resources in many other countries, including Britain, Poland and Ukraine. But some are taking a wait-and-see approach as to how fracking will play out in the U.S.

One country directly affected by increased U.S. oil production is Nigeria, an OPEC member.

“Nigeria has lost its biggest customer – the United States. Almost the first oil that’s being knocked out of the import kind of mix is by the booming shale is the kind of oil that Nigeria produces – this light, sweet crude oil. That’s what’s not required anymore by the refineries down in Texas and Louisiana. So that’s being pushed out. Nigeria is having to find new markets for its oil,” he said.

Algeria, another OPEC member, finds itself in a similar situation, with its market in the U.S. cut in half. China is a potential customer. That’s where fellow OPEC member Angola is doing a lot of business.

“Angola produces quite a mixture of different crudes, but actually it sells more oil historically to Asia, in particular, to China, anyway. So it’s sort of got a better link to consumer countries,” he said.

Swan added that China’s demand for crude oil is not expected to be as huge in 2014 as it was during the last decade. But the Platts’ editorial director for global oil news said it will still lead the way in oil demand. 

The increased U.S. production is in line with its long-term strategy to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.