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Oil output from the United States and other non-OPEC countries will grow more than global crude demand in 2018, driven largely by surging supplies from U.S. shale fields, according to a leading energy policy advisor.
The assessment is the latest sign that the crude market may struggle to work through a prolonged oil glut well into next year — and that American drillers will play a major role in the ongoing drama.
The International Energy Agency on Wednesday forecast oil supplies from producers outside OPEC will grow by 1.5 million barrels a day next year. Meanwhile, global demand for crude will jump by 1.4 million barrels a day.
IEA projects consumption in 2018 will average 99.3 million barrels a day, driven largely by developing nations like China and India. Total supply outside the 14-member OPEC cartel is seen averaging 59.7 million barrels a day next year. OPEC, which currently produces about 32 million barrels a day, will make up the balance.
The 2018 production growth forecast for non-OPEC countries is more than double IEA's outlook for output gains of 660,000 barrels a day this year, and will largely be driven by growth in the United States.
U.S. shale drillers have put more oil rigs to work as higher prices, supported by OPEC-led production cuts, allow them to break even on more new output in shale fields, which requires expensive advanced drilling methods.
The "outlook for U.S. oil supplies has materially changed since the start of the year," the IEA said. "Not only are producers increasing spending more sharply than initially thought, the pace and duration of new rig additions and drilling activity has exceeded all expectations."
Brazil, Canada, the U.K., Kazakhstan, Ghana and Congo are also expected to contribute to higher output, as long-planned projects ramp up, the IEA said. Meanwhile, the agency projects production in China and Mexico will continue to decline due to investment cuts in exploration and development.
A key question is how much Russia, one of the world's largest producers, will pump next year, according to the IEA.
Russia joined an OPEC-led effort to remove 1.8 million barrels a day from the market through March. Moscow has vowed to keep its output at 300,000 barrels a day below October levels, but the IEA warned Russian producers plan to sharply increase spending this year.
"While this forecast only includes a slight and gradual increase in Russian output next year, there may be a surprise to the upside again," the IEA said.
OPEC, Russia and other exporters are currently capping output in a bid to drive global crude stockpiles down to the five-year average. On Wednesday, the IEA warned stocks might not fall to that level until close to the expiration of OPEC's current deal in March.
"We have regularly counselled that patience is required on the part of those looking for the rebalancing of the oil market, and new data leads us to repeat the message in this Report," the IEA said.
"'Whatever it takes' might be the mantra, but the current form of 'whatever' is not having as quick an impact as expected."