The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been warned by its internal research team that there could be a permanent doubling of oil prices in the coming decade with profound implications for global trade.
“This is uncharted territory for the world economy, which has never experienced such prices for more than a few months,” the report warns.
The new IMF “working paper” come as the value of crude on world markets remains at the historically high level of $113 a barrel and just after the International Energy Agency reported that consumption would accelerate for the rest of this year in line with a wider economic recovery.
Undertaken amid mounting concerns about “peak oil”, the IMF study does not presume that there is a constraint on how much oil can be taken out of the ground. It prefers to believe that extraction rates will depend on the price that will be able to be charged for the final product.
“While our model is not as pessimistic as the pure geological view that typically holds that binding resource constraints will lead world oil production on to an inexorable downward trend in the very near future, our prediction of small further increases in world oil production comes at the expense of a near doubling, permanently, of real oil prices over the coming decade,” argues the report, entitled The Future of Oil: Geology v Technology.
The paper, which contains a warning that it should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF itself was nevertheless prepared by several authors including Jaromir Benes, a former head of macroeconomic modelling in the Czech National Bank but now employed by the IMF in Washington.
It says that its oil market “models” have been significantly more accurate than others in a world where predictability has been historically low. But it adds: “Our empirical results also indicate that if the model’s predictions continue to be accurate as they have been over the last decade… the future will not be easy.”
Meanwhile, the Paris-based International Energy Agency, which advises industrialised nations, including the UK on energy policy, said crude prices would remain high in 2012, due to tensions between Iran and the west. “The path of market fundamentals for the rest of the year remains highly uncertain and geopolitical risks will likely continue to keep prices high,” the agency said.
The agency believes that a period of declining demand – triggered by the slowdown in the global economy – is now over and the upward trajectory resumed.
The Opec oil cartel made similar statements a week ago, saying that oil demand growth had “stopped its declining trend”.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012
Oil well in China, photo by John Hill (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons