OPEC prepares for drastic drop in oil demand

OPEC admitted that demand for its oil over the next few years could be drastically weaker than it previously thought, due to a combination of a weakening economy, rising supply elsewhere, and pressure from climate activists.

In its World Oil Outlook, OPEC said that demand for its oil may only reach 32.8 million barrels per day (mb/d) by 2024, a figure that is substantially lower than the 35 mb/d from last year’s estimate. Demand is still expected to grow in non-OECD countries going forward, but OPEC admitted that demand may peak in the OECD in 2020.

Slower economic growth also factored into the lower medium- and long-term estimates. “Given recent signs of stress in the global economy, and the outlook for global growth, at least in the short- and medium-term, the outlook for global oil demand has been lowered slightly this year to 110.6 mb/d by 2040,” OPEC’s Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said in the report.

OPEC said that non-OPEC production continues to rise, particularly from U.S. shale, although not exclusively. The cartel has had to restrain production for several years to keep prices from crashing, even in the face of relentless shale growth. U.S. shale is growing, but is now slowing dramatically. At the same time, countries such as Norway, Brazil, Canada and Guyana are expected to continue to add supplies in the next few years. Steady supply increases put OPEC in a bind.

While OPEC acknowledged that electric vehicles are “gaining momentum”, the cartel is not exactly preparing for the end of the oil era. It still sees demand growing by around 12 million barrels a day over the next two decades, a scenario that would be utterly at odds with any viable chance to head off the climate crisis.

Just a few months ago, Barkindo said that the greatest threat to the global oil industry came from climate activists. “There is a growing mass mobilisation of world opinion… against oil,” Barkindo said. In response, 16-year-old Swedish climate activists Greta Thunberg tweeted, “Thank you! Our biggest compliment yet!”

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