A business-as-unusual outlook for oil in the medium term

The recent crash in oil prices will cause the oil market to rebalance in ways that challenge traditional thinking about the responsiveness of supply and demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its annual Medium-Term Oil Market Report (MTOMR) released today.

The US light, tight oil (LTO) revolution has made non-OPEC production more responsive to price swings than during previous market selloffs, the report said, adding that this would likely set the stage for a relatively swift recovery. At the same time, lower oil prices will not provide as strong a boon to oil demand growth as might be expected.

As producers take an axe to their spending, supply will grow far more slowly than previously projected, but global capacity is still forecast to expand by 5.2 million barrels per day by 2020, and the toll on production will vary by country. Growth in US LTO is expected to regain momentum in the latter part of the forecast period as prices recover, and North America remains a top source of supply growth for the remainder of the decade. In contrast, Russia faces a perfect storm of lower prices, sanctions and currency swings, pushing its production into contraction. OPEC’s share of global supply will inch up from recent lows but will not recover to the levels enjoyed before the surge in LTO supply.  

"This unusual response to lower prices is just one more example of how shale oil has changed the market," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven, who launched the report at the Energy Institute’s International Petroleum Week in London. "OPEC’s move to let the market rebalance itself is a reflection of that fact. It may have effectively turned LTO into the new swing producer, but it will not drive it out of the market. LTO might in fact come out stronger."

Assuming that international sanctions on Iran remain in place, OPEC growth in crude production capacity is expected to be limited to 200 000 barrels per day per year. The overwhelming majority of that growth will come from Iraq and will thus be at significant risk as geopolitical instability there persists.

A combination of cyclical and structural factors will keep the demand response to lower prices relatively subdued, and demand in several key oil exporters will be hurt by the revenue loss. Nevertheless, global demand is now expected to grow slightly faster than supply capacity, causing the market to gradually tighten and the “call on OPEC and stocks change” to rise from 2016 onwards.       

Political risk to supply will remain extraordinarily elevated in the next few years, both on the upside and the downside. Lower oil prices may heighten the risk of political disturbances in oil-export-dependent economies countries with low buffers, but can also offer an incentive to maximise output and stimulate production growth.

The MTOMR is part of a series of medium-term forecasts that the IEA devotes to each of the main primary energy sources – oil, gas, coal and renewables. In addition, a market report assesses energy efficiency. A companion to the IEA’s Oil Market Report, the MTOMR offers a bridge between that monthly snapshot of market conditions and the longer-term World Energy Outlook. Like previous editions, MTOMR 2015 offers detailed analysis and forecasts of demand, OPEC and non-OPEC supply, refining capacity, crude trade and product supply. This year’s edition also includes a focus on the impact of changing emission standards for marine fuels, which make up 4% of global demand.     

The Medium-Term Oil Market Report 2015 is available for free download, as is the Executive Summary. To read the Executive Director's speech at the launch, click here‌, and to view the presentation that accompanied it, click here‌. 


About the IEA

The International Energy Agency is an autonomous organisation that works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 29 member countries and beyond. Founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis, the IEA’s initial role was to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply. While this remains a key aspect of its work, the IEA has evolved and expanded. It is at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing authoritative research, statistics, analysis and recommendations.