Quello che segue è un articolo estratto da uno studio effettuato dal Cambridge Energy Research Associates – uno dei più quotati istituti di ricerca e consulenza su questioni energetiche – sull’impatto economico-strategico della crescita del prezzo del petrolio.
Break Point Revisited: CERA’s $120-$150 Oil Scenario
May 7, 2008
“Break Point” Revisited
The speed has been breathtaking. Oil prices have moved from $87 per barrel in February to around $120 per barrel in April. Two years ago, in 2006, CERA envisioned such a dramatic shift in the oil price playing field in our Break Point scenario, which projected an annual average price of $120 per barrel (see Figure 1). To be sure, the future does not unfold neatly in line with any projection, and the time frame of the actual price surge has been remarkably short. But the factors leading to this turn of events and the world’s early responses to it are similar to what we described in our Break Point scenario—a world in which prices spike to $150 per barrel.
What we want to do now is look at what we conceived as the drivers of $120 per barrel oil—and compare them to the forces at work today. But there is another aspect to Break Point as well—the response on both the supply and demand sides. And we want to consider how that response is unfolding, and may unfold in the years ahead. For we doubt that the laws of economics have been abolished. Nor have the pressures been abolished on politicians to respond—and to be seen as responding. Moreover, higher prices accentuate energy security concerns and reinforce market responses. In this case, the responses may well dovetail with increasingly significant climate change policies.
At the heart of the Break Point scenario is a slow pace of growth in liquids supply that reflects the range of aboveground risks. “Decision making to facilitate new development in oil-exporting countries loses its urgency,” we wrote. “Many countries with large oil endowments feel less pressure to expand production as the continued surge in revenues pours into their rainy day oil funds.” Current headlines about the future of oil production capacity in the world’s two largest producers—Saudi Arabia and Russia—have their own specific drivers, but the market’s interpretation is that supply growth is highly uncertain and may fall short. The amount of money flowing into the “rainy day oil funds”—now rechristened as sovereign wealth funds—has been enormous. Those mounting financial surpluses certainly reduce the urgency to expand capacity. Lower expectations for demand growth are having the same effect.
We have not seen a single massive disruption, but rather a series that adds up to what we have called the “aggregate disruption.” Venezuela’s output has fallen by more than 700,000 barrels per day (bd) since oil prices began to rise in 2003. In Nigeria close to 1 million barrels per day (mbd) is currently shut in. Iraq’s production, at least for now, remains stuck in a narrow range of 2 to 2.4 mbd—far below its potential. There are also demand-side disruptions such as the sidelining of nuclear power plants in Japan because of earthquakes. This has added up to 200,000 bd to oil demand. All these disruptions not only limit spare capacity but also build into the price of oil an almost-permanent security premium.
One factor that we see today was clear to us two years ago; and one was unanticipated. We could already observe the impact of rapidly rising development costs and were in fact at the same time developing our Upstream Capital Costs Index (UCCI). Rising costs for equipment, people, and skills have been a great drag on a supply response, at least so far. According to the UCCI, a new oil development today will cost essentially double what it would have cost three years ago.
What we did not envision in the scenario was the collapse in the value of the dollar. This has accelerated a flight to commodities and brought many more financial buyers into the oil markets. They treat oil—and other commodities—as a financial asset class. The dollar has lost nearly half its value against the euro since 2002—and trading in crude oil contracts on NYMEX is up 350 percent over the same period. This reflects more than just people hedging their own physical supply. The weight of noncommercial participants in the oil market is more significant and has a greater influence on price.
Demand is where the threads of different scenarios overlap. Yes, we see weaker demand in the United States. The European economy is beginning to show signs of slowing. But demand growth in Asia and the Middle East is continuing its high pace. This is more consistent with another scenario we refer to as Asian Phoenix—characterized by strong global economic growth led by Asian countries (see “Break Point, the Dawn of a New Age, and CERA’s Global Energy Forum”). Of course, in many of those countries, government price controls prevent the full impact of higher prices from flowing directly to consumers.
The move to $150 per barrel in the Break Point scenario is the world’s “fourth oil shock.” Prices at such levels create their own negative effects on the world economy. As we wrote in Break Point, “The price jump has a chilling effect on an already weak global economy.…Consumer confidence plummets and companies suspend decisions on major capital projects. Political leaders plead for energy conservation and driving restrictions are introduced in several major cities.” On April 22, 2008—when oil prices surged past $119 per barrel—the Bush Administration announced an accelerated adoption of the December 2007 higher fuel economy standards for light duty vehicles.
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