Image via WikipediaVery insightful and finally honest article on how our oil turmoil will affect our lives in the coming years another excellent and detailed article from Le Monde Diplomatique:
Whatever the outcome of the protests, uprisings, and rebellions now sweeping the Middle East, one thing is guaranteed: the world of oil will be permanently transformed. Consider everything that’s now happening as just the first tremor of an oilquake that will shake our world to its core.
For a century stretching back to the discovery of oil in southwestern Persia before World War I, Western powers have repeatedly intervened in the Middle East to ensure the survival of authoritarian governments devoted to producing petroleum. Without such interventions, the expansion of Western economies after World War II and the current affluence of industrialized societies would be inconceivable.
Here, however, is the news that should be on the front pages of newspapers everywhere: That old oil order is dying, and with its demise we will see the end of cheap and readily accessible petroleum — forever.
Let’s try to take the measure of what exactly is at risk in the current tumult.
In 2009, the most recent year for which such data is available, BP reported that suppliers in the Middle East and North Africa jointly produced 29 million barrels per day, or 36% of the world’s total oil supply — and even this doesn’t begin to suggest the region’s importance to the petroleum economy.
As it happens, Middle Eastern producers will be even more important in the years to come because they possess an estimated two-thirds of remaining untapped petroleum reserves. According to recent projections by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Middle East and North Africa will jointly provide approximately 43% of the world’s crude petroleum supply by 2035 (up from 37% in 2007), and will produce an even greater share of the world’s exportable oil.
So far, the most important Middle Eastern producer of all, Saudi Arabia, has not exhibited obvious signs of vulnerability, or prices would have soared even higher. However, the royal house of neighboring Bahrain is already in deep trouble.
Even if rebellion doesn’t reach Saudi Arabia, the old Middle Eastern oil order cannot be reconstructed. The result is sure to be a long-term decline in the future availability of exportable petroleum.
Three-quarters of the 1.7 million barrels of oil Libya produces daily were quickly taken off the market as turmoil spread in that country. Much of it may remain off-line and out of the market for the indefinite future.
The critical player is Saudi Arabia, which just increased production to compensate for Libyan losses on the global market. But don’t expect this pattern to hold forever. Assuming the royal family survives the current round of upheavals, it will undoubtedly have to divert more of its daily oil output to satisfy rising domestic consumption levels and fuel local petrochemical industries that could provide a fast-growing, restive population with better-paying jobs.
In April 2010, the chief executive officer of state-owned Saudi Aramco, Khalid al-Falih, predicted that domestic consumption could reach a staggering 8.3 million barrels per day by 2028, leaving only a few million barrels for export and ensuring that, if the world can’t switch to other energy sources, there will be petroleum starvation.
In other words, if one traces a reasonable trajectory from current developments in the Middle East, the handwriting is already on the wall. Since no other area is capable of replacing the Middle East as the world’s premier oil exporter, the oil economy will shrivel — and with it, the global economy as a whole.
Consider the recent rise in the price of oil just a faint and early tremor heralding the oilquake to come. Oil won’t disappear from international markets, but in the coming decades it will never reach the volumes needed to satisfy projected world demand, which means that, sooner rather than later, scarcity will become the dominant market condition. Only the rapid development of alternative sources of energy and a dramatic reduction in oil consumption might spare the world the most severe economic repercussions.
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