The oil market has been awash in crude for more than three years, and OPEC has struggled to accelerate the rebalancing effort, but the world could be heading for a supply crunch in a few years due to the sharp fall in industry spending.
The halving of oil prices from $100 per barrel before 2014 down to just $50 today has led to a corresponding plunge in upstream investment. But even as benchmark prices seem to have stabilized over the past year, with most analysts predicting gradual and modest gains in the year ahead (depending on OPEC’s actions), there’s still no sign of a serious rebound in spending levels.
The problem of a shortage of supply seems very far off today, given the swift turnaround in U.S. shale and persistently high levels of crude storage.
But demand continues to rise—the IEA just upgraded its demand growth estimate for 2017 to 1.6 million barrels per day (mb/d). If that level of demand growth continues for a few years, it will more than devour the excess supply on the market. Even a more tempered growth rate would strain supplies toward the end of the decade, absent a corresponding uptick in production.
“There are still not enough signs of investment beginning to return, and that raises the risk of tightening of the market in the next five years and a risk to the stability of oil prices,” Neil Atkinson, head of the IEA’s oil markets and industry division, said at a conference in Bahrain. “There is at least a possibility of going back to the situation we had 10 years ago where oil prices were very, very high at a time when demand was growing.”