October 17, 2014
World Oil Demand: And Then There Was None

by Charles K. Ebinger

In recent weeks, many analysts have expressed considerable surprise as oil prices have hit $80 per barrel and prices at American gas pumps have fallen. This "surprise" seems to have crept up on us, but evidence of shifting market demand and energy production has been available for some time. Over the past three years, high oil prices have generated increased interest in oil and gas in remote locations such the Arctic and East Africa. In addition, breakthroughs in oil and gas technology have also driven the development of unconventional oil and gas resources in regions of the world that were previously considered too high-cost, too high-risk or too far away from established markets for profitable energy production. Further, as a result of climate change melting Arctic ice, new oil fields and delivery routes have opened up, while technological advancements in resource extraction are opening vast new regions for resource exploration in countries like Mozambique and Tanzania, which lack even the most the most basic infrastructure and need high energy prices to justify their development.

Despite possible environmental and infrastructure challenges, a number of countries and regions are motivated to pursue increased resource development and extraction for a variety of non-energy related reasons. For example, the political leadership of Greenland views the development of energy and mineral resources as an opportunity to gain independence from Denmark. For its part, Canada sees the development of its northern territories as a way to bolster its claims to national sovereignty over its "internal waters," a view contested by both Washington and Moscow. In the case of Russia, development of the Yamal Peninsula and its offshore Arctic waters has been a major priority for President Vladimir Putin, who believes the policy will catapult Russia into the vanguard of future global oil and gas producers and, as a result, will make Russia a market player in the Far East as well as Europe.

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