Europe Oil Demand: 20-Year Low and to Slide Further

Oil demand in Europe, already at its lowest in 20 years after five years of declines, is set to fall further, dented by a bleak economic outlook, increasing energy efficiency and a switch to alternative forms of energy.

Alexander Korolkov | AFP | Getty Images

The International Energy Agency predicted that demand for oil for the biggest and most developed European nations is set to contract in 2013, while other areas, especially much of Asia, will see robust growth.

While OECD European demand will fall 0.19 million bpd in 2013 after a 0.51 million bpd fall in 2012, non-OECD Asia will see a gain of over half a million bpd, and the Middle East and Latin America will also see decent demand growth, the IEA predicts.

Matt Parry, demand analyst at the Paris based agency which monitors energy for the developed economies, said that, if anything, risks for Europe were skewed to the downside while for other regions predictions were more likely to be pushed higher.

"The reason the fall (for 2013) is relatively small is that there has been a lot of cutting back already (in 2012), but we think the fall could be as high as 0.5-0.6 million bpd given the economic weakness."

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Half a million barrels per day represents the throughput of around three major refineries in the region, so the sector which has already seen numerous closures in the past few years, could well see more casualties.

Parry said that oil consumption levels in Europe are at their lowest since at least 1995 and probably to the early 1990s, though detailed data does not go back far enough to be precise.

Efficiency Drive

The fall, more than half of which Parry estimates is down to increased fuel efficiency, looks set to keep going into the foreseeable future.

The JBC Energy consultancy's fuel transport model shows fuel demand would now be about 1 million bpd higher than it was 10 years ago without an estimated increase in efficiency of 20 percent in the European car fleet.

Between 2011 and 2020, efficiency gains in goods vehicles and buses will push down demand by 180,000 bpd and passenger cars 240,000 bpd, while hybrid cars will knock 50,000 bpd off fuel use, according to estimates by JBC consultancy.

The total of 470,000 barrels per day represents around 3.4 percent of the total expected European demand in 2013 by the IEA.

In Britain in 2011 the average new petrol car drove 47 miles per gallon, or 16.6 km per litre compared to 36 MPG, or 12.7 km per litre in 2001, data from the Department for Transport shows.

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Chances of a recovery for the euro zone economy have faded further into 2013, according to a Reuters poll of economists who say the recession deepened in the three months to December.

Huge questions over the health of some of the Europe's biggest economies make any kind of major rebound for the euro zone extremely unlikely next year, rendering any recovery in energy demand a remote possibility.

Demand was hit in 2012 by the weakness of the euro against the dollar. In euro terms Brent crude oil <LCOc1> hit a record peak above 97 euros a barrel, while it held comfortably below the all time peak in dollar terms set in 2008.

High European refining margins due to low stockpiles kept prices for fuel high, even when the price of crude came off towards the end of the year.

And longer term, a trend to move away from oil as a source of power generation is also undercutting any prospects for a bounce back in demand.

"In 2007, the requirements (for power generation) were around 720,000 bpd while in 2012 it fell to 550,000 bpd," said David Wech at JBC Energy in Vienna.

The 2012 figure represents around 4 percent of total demand in Europe using calculations based on the IEA's total European demand figure.

"We expect this year demand to fall to 530,000 bpd as the sector continues to make further use of natural gas while government mandates push to raise the share of renewable in the power mix."

Divergent Trends

Demand is likely again to be harder hit in Italy, Spain and France than Germany and the United Kingdom, echoing the diverging economic fortunes of northern and southern Europe.

France saw fuel demand in 2012 fall by around 0.7-0.8 percent, according to Jean-Louis Schilansky, head of France's petroleum industry body (UFIP).

"I don't think that consumption will pick up in 2013. Consumption habits are there, cars are more and more efficient, there's no reason for people to start driving more again," Schilansky said.

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He added that demand levels remained below the level seen in 2007 because of rising prices and the fact that people are more wary about consumption.

Energy consumption in Italy fell around 4 percent in 2012 taking it back to the levels of the mid 1990s.

Oil product consumption tumbled by 11.4 percent to 63 million tonnes.

Germany by contrast saw oil imports rise between January and November 2012, supported by a growing economy.