Oil prices continue to rise on the prospect of a rebound in fuel demand as economies begin to reopen. But there is a large difference between oil demand rising from recent lows and actually growing relative to pre-COVID-19 trends. In other words, demand destruction on the order of nearly 30 million barrels per day (mb/d) may have been brief, but we are a long way from a 100-mb/d oil market.
In fact, some are wondering whether the world will ever get back to 100 mb/d of oil demand. Even oil executives have their doubts. Royal Dutch Shell’s CEO Ben van Beurden recently suggested that a rebound is unlikely, even looking out beyond 2020. “We do not expect a recovery of oil prices or demand for our products in the medium term,” he said.
“We basically have a crisis of uncertainty. Uncertainty about demand, about prices,” van Beurden said in a video address when presenting first quarter results at the end of April. “Maybe even uncertainty about the viability of some of our assets given all of the logistical issues we have.”
BP’s CEO Bernard Looney largely admitted the same thing. The COVID-19 pandemic could entrench certain societal changes – more teleworking, less commuting, less flying – that could permanently erode a portion of consumption. “It’s not going to make oil more in demand. It’s gotten more likely [oil will] be less in demand,” Looney said in an interview with the FT.
“I don’t think we know how this is going to play out. I certainly don’t know,” Looney said. “Could it be peak oil? Possibly. Possibly. I would not write that off.”
Not everyone agrees. ExxonMobil’s chief executive Darren Woods recently said that the long-term trends “have not changed.”
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