U.S. shale oil will help meet most of the world's new oil demand in the next five years, even if the global economy picks up steam, leaving the need for OPEC crude barely changed from today's levels, the West's energy agency said on Tuesday.
The prediction by the International Energy Agency (IEA) came in its closely watched semi-annual report, which analyses mid-term global oil supply and demand trends.
"Following several years of stronger-than-expected North American supply growth, the shockwaves of rising U.S. shale gas and light tight oil and Canadian oil sands production are reaching virtually all recesses of the global oil market," the IEA said.
It said it expected global oil demand to rise 8 percent between 2012 and 2018 to reach 96.7 million barrels per day (bpd) based on a fairly optimistic International Monetary Fund's global economic growth assumption of between 3.0 and 4.5 percent a year during the period.
That incremental demand will be mainly met by non-OPEC production, which will rise by more than 10 percent between 2012 and 2018 to 59.31 million bpd, the IEA said, increasing its estimate of non-OPEC supply in 2017 by 1 million bpd versus its previous report in October 2012.
That will leave OPEC, which had been long seen as the last resort for the world to meet rising demand, with output fluctuating around the current levels of 30 million bpd for the next five years.
The agency cut its estimate of the demand for OPEC crude and stocks in 2017 to 29.99 million bpd, down by 1.22 million bpd from its previous report.
It said the U.S. shale oil boom and a technological revolution coming with it could help Russia and China boost their production from unconventional reserves while also probably slowing projects in north Africa as oil firms pull out due to security reasons.
"Several members of the (OPEC) producer group face new hurdles, notably in North and sub-Saharan Africa. The regional fallout from the 'Arab Spring' is taking a toll on investment and capacity growth," the IEA said.
"Downward adjustments across the (OPEC) group are partly offset by substantially stronger growth in Saudi capacity than previously expected, reflecting newly announced development projects," it added.
However, Iran's sustainable crude production capacity was likely to fall by as much as 1 million bpd to 2.38 million bpd by 2018, the lowest in many decades, due to Western sanctions, the IEA said.
European Refiners at Risk
The IEA said the balance of global supply growth, until recently evenly split between OPEC and non-OPEC, was tilting towards the latter.
"North America thus increases its share of supply growth both within the non-OPEC group and more globally," it added.
In every other aspect of the supply chain, be it demand, refining, trade or storage and transportation, the fast rise of emerging market and developing economies was striking, it said.
These economies were projected to overtake advanced economies in oil product consumption from the second quarter of 2013. This lead will widen further, jumping from 49 percent of global demand in 2012 to more than 54 percent by 2018.
The IEA said that, beyond the well known story of growth in Brazil, China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, many African nations were also on the rise on the global oil consumption map.
The IEA also predicted tectonic changes for the global refining industry as countries such as India and Saudi Arabia build new refining capacity.
Global refining capacity expansions would outpace upstream supply growth as well as demand growth, bringing refining margins under pressure. Higher-cost refineries will face strong competitive headwinds.
"European refineries are at particularly high risk of closure over the forecast period," the IEA said.
The IEA also added that another consequence of the surge in U.S. shale oil and gas production was a shift in natural gas pricing, which was challenging the conventional wisdom about fuel switching and gas-in-transport.
"Cheap and abundant natural gas has already facilitated the transition of the U.S. economy towards broader use of the fuel," the agency said.