The world’s oil supermajors and largest oil trading companies are not in agreement on the future trends in oil demand, a recent event has revealed. This, although normal, should serve as a signal to everyone watching the oil industry that any forecasts on supply and demand, regardless how bullish or bearish they are, need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Or two.
It wasn’t always this way. Once, oil demand was something certain to grow consistently, as there were no alternatives to fossil fuels. Now there are a growing number of these and some industry players are beginning to acknowledge their effect on oil’s fundamentals.
BP was the first to do so: in its latest Energy Outlook, the supermajor forecast that oil demand will peak some time in the next decade. The company noted in the report that “the continuing rapid growth of renewables is leading to the most diversified fuel mix ever seen,” adding that “Abundant and diversified energy supplies will make for a challenging marketplace.”
Different companies are responding to this challenge in different ways. Shell, for instance, is pushing into renewables at breakneck speed. BHP Billiton, on the other hand, is exiting shale oil (under pressure from Elliot Management, but an exit is an exit) and looking for quick-return projects. Exxon is still an oil bull, forecasting that oil demand will continue to grow until 2040 driven by the transport sector and the chemicals industry.
But Exxon and other oil bulls may be underestimating the changes that the energy sector is already undergoing. That’s according to the chief executive of Gunvor. At the FT Commodities Global Summit in Switzerland, Torbjorn Tornqvist, said “I think that generally the oil industry has underestimated the challenges ahead. I think that electric vehicles are just the beginning, the advances create momentum which feeds that’s momentum and accelerates it.”
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