By Chris Nelder
Posting in Energy
Energy columnist Chris Nelder shows how the oil demand of the East will overtake the West this year, and why more efficient vehicles won't solve our problem.
America, Europe: Get in the back seat. Someone else wants to drive.
The realization that oil prices aren't about them anymore has been slow to dawn on Americans after a century of being the world's swing consumers. But the fact is that the world's developing economies have been outbidding the developed OECD countries for oil since 2005. Some time this year, non-OECD oil demand will overtake OECD demand, and they will stay in the driver's seat for the remainder of oil's reign as the lifeblood of the global economy.
The reason is simple: In Asia, they put eight guys on a small motorcycle that gets 60 to 80 mpg in fuel economy, or one guy and a load of boxes on a moped getting 225 mpg, while in the U.S. we drive around solo in SUVs that get under 18 mpg. So if you should wonder why oil prices remain stubbornly high while U.S. demand continues to fall precipitously, just keep the above photo in mind.
Conventional oil supply hit its peak-plateau around 74 million barrels per day (mbpd) at the end of 2004, but demand kept right on growing, pushing prices up. To increase liquid fuel supply to meet the 90 mbpd the world will demand this year, we had to turn to unconventional fuels like tar sands, tight oil, and biofuels, all of which have far higher production costs. As the old oil, with production costs under $20 a barrel in places like Saudi Arabia, depletes and is replaced by new oil with production costs over $80, the world price must rise higher still to accommodate the higher cost of production.
The consumer with the least efficiency loses in this contest. And that's us.
New cars, minivans and SUVs in China already get nearly 36 mpg and will be required to get 42 mpg by 2015, according to research cited by the New York Times. In America, we merely aspire to match China's current fuel economy by 2016.
The numbers are remorseless. The average efficiency of our existing fleet of 240 million cars and light trucks is in the neighborhood of 22.5 mpg. China will add 125 million cars to its fleet over the next five years, said Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph this past weekend. That's half the size of the total U.S. fleet. And those cars will get nearly twice the fuel economy that our fleet does.
From West to East
The shift in oil demand from West to East is clearly evident in the chart below.
Source: Samuel Foucher/Logi Energy LLC
OECD demand has been falling steadily since 2005, while non-OECD demand has been rising relentlessly. Non-OECD demand will overtake OECD demand for the first time this year, and it will not look back.
China and India have been primarily responsible for the astonishing growth in demand. Working over data from the EIA, I find that U.S. oil demand fell 1.65 mbpd in the five years from 2005 through 2010, while China and India's demand grew 0.96 mbpd in just one year, from 2009 to 2010. From 2005 through 2010, the growth in demand from China and India was double the demand lost in the U.S., and 1.14 times the combined demand loss of the U.S. and Europe.
Although it has pared its expectations for Asian demand growth somewhat, the IEA's February 2012 Oil Market Report shows that this imbalance will continue. In 2011, Asia's demand growth was 1.33 times the combined loss of Europe and the U.S., and in 2012, the IEA expects it to be 1.55 times as much.
My findings confirm the assertions of a very good new research note from Barclays Capital, which repeated "Asian oil demand is growing at a faster pace than markets are currently pricing in" like a mantra and warned of "significant upside demand risk." The demand shift from West to East has escaped the notice of many analysts, they surmise, simply because the data is so much more readily available from the U.S.: "The difficulty for the market is that data flow is fastest and most detailed in the weaker spots, while it is slower and less comprehensive in areas of runaway demand strength. This often creates false illusions about the state of global demand, and current commentary on demand and inventories seems to point to exactly that." [Emphasis mine.]
One notable exception to the general OECD trend is Japan, as they seek to replace the lost power generation from their crippled nuclear fleet with oil. The Barclays analysts note that Japan's year-over-year oil demand growth was 0.43 mbpd in December, and that oil input to Japan's utilities is up 117 percent in January from a year earlier. They estimate that global oil demand will rise by 1.04 mbpd in 2012, slightly lower than the IEA's estimate of 1.16 mbpd.
It would be a grave error to assume that new supply from expensive and slow-scaling unconventional sources can meet 1 mbpd of new demand this year, and the next, and the next on into the future. Remember, total "tight oil" production in the U.S. in 2011 was just over half a million barrels per day, and it took about 7 years and thousands of wells to achieve. We're not going to slake the thirst of the Red Dragon by the thimbleful of shale oil.
The shocking outlook for exports
Further, this new demand trend is already structurally baked-in. There is really nothing that America can do about it other than to consume less.
The sheer numbers of the global population using oil more efficiently will doom us to being the buyer of last resort under virtually any U.S. fuel economy standard. The roughly one billion people in the U.S. and Europe combined are now competing for oil with four billion people in Asia and over one billion more in Latin America, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. It's like a tug-of-war with five people on one end of the rope and one on the other.
And those five people want to enjoy a much higher standard of living. Tweeting from the CERA Week energy conference this week, AP energy reporter Jonathan Fahey quoted the chief economist of ConocoPhilips as saying that the world middle class is now growing by 8 million people per day. There are 2 billion of them today, he says, and there will be 5 billion by 2030.
Of those people, the ones that should concern us most are not new consumers in Asia, but the 1.4 billion people climbing the socioeconomic ladder in oil exporting countries. They are consuming more of their own oil production every day, and eventually, perhaps around 2018 - 2020, they will realize that they need to curb exports deliberately to meet their own needs.
Consider this chart of the top five net oil exporters, who make up 75 percent of the world's exports. Their exports have been declining since 2005, and on current trends, global oil exports would fall to zero in 16 years.
Source: Samuel Foucher/Logi Energy LLC
Of course, exports can fall to zero in theory only, not in practice. In reality, high prices will kill the most inefficient, unsubsidized demand first—in the U.S. and Europe. Next, demand will be curbed in net exporting countries, first via the removal of domestic fuel subsidies, and then by world prices. The demand of the four billion people in Asia will be the last to go because they use it most efficiently.
We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that Americans can adjust to emerging markets demand and declining exports by simply buying more efficient vehicles. First, at the 2011 U.S. sales rate of 12.8 million light vehicles—a rate which will not hold in a scenario of declining fuel supply and increasing economic pain—it would take 19 years to turn over the fleet. Second, our fuel economy simply isn't improving quickly enough. The vast majority of our fuel economy gains were made from in the late 1970s through the early 1980s. From 1995 to 2009 (the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics), the average fuel economy of the U.S. fleet improved by just 12.4 percent for cars, and 0.2 percent for light trucks. By the time we replace just half of our fleet, a larger number of far more efficient vehicles elsewhere will be competing for diminishing exports and driving prices beyond our pain threshold. In the race for fleet efficiency, we will always lose to Asia. In Wall Street parlance, they'll be buying our margin liquidation.
The conclusion should be obvious and indisputable: We'll just hand over the keys. As I said last October, OECD economies should expect growthless stagnation at best. Oil has become a zero-sum market where the developing world's gain will be the OECD’s loss. It's time we woke up to the new reality of oil demand and acted accordingly. Not by imagining that we'll be running more than 240 million slightly more efficient vehicles in the future, but by transitioning to rail and retiring them altogether.
Photo: Overloaded motorcycle in Vietnam
Mar 6, 2012
The middle class is NOT growing by 8 million per day. This would be almost 3 bilion per yea and by 2030 there would be 50 bilion middle class people in the developing countries. So this is at least an order of magnitude error. I hope other numbers in the article are more real.
When all these muckety mucks start spouting off about how much better gas mileage the vehicles get in China compared to the U.S., they don't bother to take into consideration that cars in the U.S. are loaded with fuel consuming pollution control devices. Look under the hood of a car in the U.S. and you don't see the engine, you see all the pollution control crap. Look under the hood in China, or Asia as far as that goes, and all you see is an engine. All the power they generate goes directly to the drive wheels, not wasted on power robbing pollution control devices....
I have three nits to pick. "Oil has become a zero-sum market where the developing world???s gain will be the OECD???s loss" In the short term all commodities are zero-sum. In the long term, commodities run out or lose their utility and are replaced: flint, wood, iron, brass, steel, carbon nanotubes...; whale oil, pitch, coal, crudeoil, nuclear... I would submit that rising oil prices are the non-OECD's bain not gain; because non-OECDs lack the human capital structure to either develop or make substitutions as quickly as OECD's with their larger economies and better human capital stock. You also accept growth in the non-OECD as a given without any consideration of what drives it. So what does drive and sustain non-OECD growth.
While there really is nothing new here, Mr. Neider makes a good point that the US still thinks of itself as the center of the universe. For example, when oil prices peaked in July, 2008 and then started a rapid descent, people in the US credited the opening of new offshore fields by the US even though they hadn't produced a drop of oil. What was overlooked was that prices didn't drop until both India and China reduced their retail gasoline subsidies. In India the increased cost of subsidies to keep the retail price of gasoline fixed and the huge deficit it was creating was threatening the stability of the government. Finally they had to give in and reduce the subsidy despite the political costs. China is a closed society, so we'll never know just how much pain they felt. Subsequently India has dropped its subsidies altogether. I'm not sure about China but I think they still subsidize gasoline to the tune of 30 or 40 cents per gallon. One aspect I think Mr. Neider overlooks is that the US is still relatively more affluent than China or India. In the global bidding war for gasoline, the average US consumer can afford to pay more per gallon than the average Indian or Chinese. We may scream at $5 per gallon, but that's a huge chunk of a day's wage for many in those two countries even in the middle class. On the other side, we still use cars that are less fuel efficient and drive more. While eventually both India and China may have larger aggregate demand than the US, it's not clear how both those countries will respond to increasing prices relative to the US.
The current system of travel costing has been leaving out the second most important (and costly) part of the roadway system and that is CONTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE. Why is it that those who are supposed to know what a roadway system is (and that includes the White House) never point out that even if we double the mpg we will have to pay more for the gas/diesel we use in order to continue to have a roadway system we can use. So now there are three parts to this problem: 1) MPG and the supply and demand system will fix this 2) A failing infrastructure that was supposed to not only maintain the American roadway system but to always improve it. This definitely is not happening when you travel and use this failing system of roads, bridges, etc. and finally 3) World consumption is on the increase and will continue until there is no more of these fuel products. Now, are you really depressed?
With both oil and coal use exploding in Asia and making Asia the biggest users of both, why is the US still being blamed for global warming? It is common sense that more pollution comes from the people who use more resources AND have fewer emissions controls.
Chris, I can't get over the irony of how many fat Americans you could fit on that motorcycle, 2, maybe 3, assuming that the 2nd guy could get his arms around the gut of the first guy to reach the handle bars. Likewise, assuming he wasn't drunk. What a metaphor for the lure of the ditch!
Chris - You make a great case of connecting declining petroleum reserves to their impact on transportation fuels. Unfortunately, you have yet to explain what increased costs in transportation fuels do beyond making commuting and vacations more expensive. Everyone's yawning and saying "Oh, yeah high fuel prices - again." They don't get the real impacts of declining petroleum stocks beyond their driving inconveniences. You might want to have an article on how transportation costs impact not only food transportation costs, but food harvest costs, fertilizer costs, and what increasing fuel prices do to peak phosphorus in terms of reducing the total economically feasible reserves of rock phosphates for fertilizer - especially in North America. Not to mention how increased petroluem costs reduces the economic feasibility of biofuels even further. Just a thought.
The US is significantly benefiting from the current energy situation. Oil imports are down to below 50%, the lowest in a decade. Oil production is up. Natural gas production is through the roof. Coal production is steady, with coal demand down and coal exports skyrocketing. Cheap domestic natural gas benefits industrial energy consumers, giving the US a competitive advantage over the rest of the world. The US is by the worlds best refiner of oil, and refined oil products are now a significant US export. While exporting refined products doesn't help domestic consumers match, it creates jobs, particularly for that difficult to employ blue collar sector. Cheap domestic gas also means cheap electricity and heating, reliving much of the price pain of high gasoline prices. Focusing exclusively on vehicle efficiency is a bit misleading. Overall US consumption of gasoline and diesel is down, and measured per capita, down by quite a bit. The US consumer is figuring out appropriate substitutions, whether it be via telecommuting, moving closer to work, buying a more efficent car, or using mass transit. As to stagnate economic growth - in the US, 2011 Q4 saw economic growth well over the 3%. Sure - high oil (and natural gas) prices hurt Europe, and the Japanese are picking a particularly bad time to go all wobbly on nuclear. But the US is embracing fracking like there is no tommorrow. "Pro-Fracking" is perhaps the only policy position shared by Obama, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum, guarenteeing that the US will continue to be the world leader in fracking for many years to come. Thus, low natural gas prices, and low industrial and non-transportation energy prices should continue for years to come, helping fuel the US recovery.
Oil supply and costs will be a problem that should be handled with long term thinking instead of the short term thinking that relies more on gimmicks and irrational expectations. It is safe to say that the era of cheap oil is coming to an end. Easter Island is a good cautionary but real tale. The people who immigrated to Easter Island found an island with lots of trees but also far from other islands. The people made those famous heads and had to transport those objects from one place on the island to the current locations. This was done by chopping down the trees to use as rollers to move the statues. The problem was that the trees were chopped down faster than they could grow and so the problem was that the resources of the island were much less than what was needed to support the population. The people were trapped because they could not build any boats to find another island. When Easter Island was found by Europeans, the natives were warring among themselves over the meager resources and at the same time the faith behind those large heads collapsed with an alternate faith adding to the mess. While trees are renewable resources and oil is a somewhat limited resource, the parallels between the Easter Islanders using up their resources and our current situation can help all of us to think beyond cheap oil. Trains may be more efficient use of oil for transportation, but oil factors into so many other things that it is hard to come up with alternative solutions. The scary part is that much of the agricultural revolution that has helped feed the current 7 billion people uses a lot of cheap oil to make that happen. Oil to power the farming equipment, oil to make the fertilizers and oil used to transport crops to the market and oil used to process the crops into the many forms food has become. Thanks Mr Nelder for showing us the information as well as more background on what is going on. This information is important for all us to make intelligent choices for the future.
Not so fast - If the politicians find the spine to run over the NIMBY crowd, liquid fuels could be produced with nuclear reactors hydrolyzing water. That hydrogen, coupled with CO2 from the air, heat, and catalyst, can create hydrocarbon fuels. Expensive? Of course, but if the alternative is freezing and starving in the dark, it will seem cheap by comparison. You don't even need to do this immediately if you build the reactors - they can generate electricity until (unless) the power is needed to create hydrocarbons. Or, simply use the hydrogen in fuel cell vehicles & dispense with creating hydrocarbons.
@Jardinero1, 1) you forget to consider OECDs developed their "better" human capital structure based on excess energy available to their society at one point or another. You would agree education, manufacturing and infrastructure in America has languished or declined in the past 40yrs. Have you considered it may have to do with petrol production peaking in the U.S. in the late 1960s? Some suggest U.S. needs a spare Saudi Arabia (at ~$40 less / barrel) only for maintaining its infrastructure. How many Saudi Arabias would we need to go back to hop on the Moon? If only "better human capital" is enough to make our dreams come true, how come we're not back hopping on it? 2) your understanding of the evolution of commodity usage does not follow. Nanotech, unlike flint wood carbon iron , needs a bloated oil-dependent infrastructure --along with its myriad social benefits such as AC-controlled university labs and plenty of food for the bellies of its 'better' human capital to do research-- to come to fruition. Same with nuclear. No spare oil-dependent-infrastructure = not much nano, nor much nuclear. Look up Liebig's Law, as a "jardinero" is in your interest. Besides being very enlightening, is much easier to tackle than Law of Entropy. The same one hitting us upside the head now that we lack cheap energy to patch the cracks.
Because China and India use liquid fuel more efficiently than the US they can afford to pay more for it than we do per unit of GDP. If there's a bidding war the US probably loses.
Very true. I wrote several columns addressing road and infrastructure maintenance costs when I started here. See: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/reframing-the-transportation-debate/128 http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/the-silent-infrastructure-crisis/101 http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/when-should-we-pursue-energy-transition/159
Hates Idiots, Because we've entered the phase of the life of nations where the developing nations have the power to say, "Per capita use of resources is the only metric that counts," and make it stick. It will stay that way until the whole shebang comes crashing down, unless we become more willing to acknowledge this metric and act on it.
On a per capita basis the US is far ahead of Asia in emissions. Global warming is a global issue that ultimately requires a global answer. If the US is doing something about greenhouse gas emissions it gives us a far better platform to stand on when we ask others to do the same.
How will they keep the airline industry in business without affordable fuel as well. They are having problems now with the costs. I guess the future may not include intercontinental travel by air but back to ships with sails. In the future we may be back to bicycles and horses and family farms for food. Kinda back to the old days but with electricity and some type of gaseous form of fuel for heat and maybe a form of transportation that runs on natural gas or hydrogen or the gases sucked out of our dumps but air travel will be curtailed and shipping will be limited from overseas so we will be manufacturing our products here again. The possibilities are tremendous but time will tell.
@dduggerbiocepts: Yes, food is a very important aspect of the future of fuels (and fertilizers). Thanks for the suggestion - I may take that up in a future piece.
James, Your illusions just put off the inevitable for 2 or 3 years. The illusion is that growth will ever return, and we put off dealing with it for another few critical years. It is way past time to bite the bullet to see the future with some clarity.
Congratulations! You're one of the fraction of a percent of the population that has a clue regarding the confluence of problems that declining petroleum brings about - the most significant of which is a dramatic increase food costs/and a decline in production.
If you had suggested converting existing reactors to the application of artificially creating hydro-carbons, then maybe it would be workable. But it takes about 15 years from start to finish, if all goes reasonably well, to build a nuclear reactor. That's insufficient time to make the program work.
Chris, Asphalt is a major component in roadways in the US. Do you have any thoughts on how the future of petroleum affects the cost and supply of asphalt?
People can talk all they want about lower standard of living, per capita usage, etc in these nations, but the facts are the populations are exploding in the developed nations like India and China. Do not even try telling me they are not developed nations. They consume far more food than us, far more resources in general and pollute the world far more than us by having much lower emissions standards. As they rapidly develop their per capita emissions will soon overtake ours because of the lower emissions standards. And if you honestly think that leading by example will work with these cultures you are delusional. You can swat at flies all day, but as long as the elephant is pooping in the room the situation will stink for everyone.
You think natural gas prices are going high in 2-3 years? Take that bet to the futures market and make a fortune then... natural gas is priced cheap for the next 5-10 years, minimum. Yeah, 7 years down the road things might be different ... the rest of the world hasnt started shale fracking yet. In 7 years, maybe natural gas will be cheap everywhere, after Argentina, Ireland, China, India, Australia, start fracking in earnest, The have shales in the Middle East actually. God knows how many hydrocarbons those guys are going to frack out once the tech goes over there... But at any rate, 2-3 years to spendy natural gas is absurd. 7 years is possible ... so what? 7 years is a long time for some new technology to come along.
That's a BS number. It's 5 years to get permit approval. 8 years to work though legal bullshit. It takes 3 times as long for it to get built, because after 13 years of legal fees, the company is trying to minimize construction costs and several more months are lost to underfunded inspection agencies. If the will to accomplish it were there, the only practical technical limitation is the rate of cure of concrete.
While new roads are being built and need new asphalt, almost all asphalt in use today gets recycled. For repaving the interstates, for example, there's a portable recycling unit set up nearby. The old asphalt is scraped up, sent to the recycling unit, cleaned and re-oiled, and sent back out to be repaved again. It takes less than a day for a given piece of asphalt. There is no limit to the number of times asphalt can be recycled this way. If you've ever driven on an interstate while the repaving process is going on (typically they shut down one side and reroute the traffic to one lane in each direction on the other side), you will see this recycling in action.
I'm in oil & gas business. Asphalt is the oxidized bottom of the oil barrel. It normally has too much sulfur to burn without very extensive acid gas capture. We make our own easily. Article also disregards the Canadian oil sands and our own oil shale, which give us a very large supply versus our conventional oil, especially at prices 50 percent higher than presently. We are also learning how to substitute solar, wind, and geothermal power as an industrial energy source.
In the first half of 2008, when oil prices were spiking, there were numerous news reports in the U.S. of asphalt purchase orders for repaving projects that went unfulfilled. They just couldn't get it, in part because refiners were cracking every last molecule they could into liquids. As the supply and demand gets tighter in the coming years, I do expect asphalt shortages to show up again.
Hates Idiots, You are to be commended for bringing the elephant and his poop into the light of day, but your response to that is overly cynical, "And if you honestly think that leading by example will work with these cultures you are delusional." I do honestly think that leading by example is the only long term solution and I'm not delusional, nor do I think that a Chinese person wallowing in brown air or an Indian person wallowing in human poop will be willing to live with that much longer. Elephant poop may stink a bit, but Gunga will compost it and plant his hill of beans.
James, However many few years it takes to manifest itself, yes, NG prices will eventually go through the roof, and if we aren't preparing ourselves with alternatives in the meantime the economy will go through the floor. I'm guessing that NG prices will have at least doubled by next winter. The fracking drillers are backing off of drilling and what with the very short output time frames of these wells, when drilling is curtailed, output is curtailed rapidly. Neither of us can presume to estimate with any accuracy what that will mean. That's why analysts like Chris are so valuable in finding the trend lines. As cheap fossil fuels diminish, what makes you so certain that tech will have the energy backbone to save the day. It looks to me that tech isn't likely to keep up with falling supply and once there is a shortfall, basic needs become paramount. Tech has to play second fiddle, running the treadmill even slower. Diminishing returns are the order of this century, and wishing/willing it different is a con game.