News Releases

By Sarah Kent and Justin Scheck, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2013

IEA: North American Oil to Dominate World Supply Growth

North American oil production will dominate world-wide supply growth over the next five years, the International Energy Agency predicted Tuesday, the result of growing production from "fracking" and other technologies that access once-inaccessible reserves.

It is a shift that few predicted five years ago, and will come at the expense of producers like members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that for years have dominated the industry.

In its most recent analysis, which takes a five-year view of the oil market, the IEA said U.S. production is rising much faster than previously forecast as a result of sustained high prices and more-efficient operations.

The latest forecast marks a shift in the IEA's previous thinking, which saw supply growth split between OPEC and non-OPEC countries in the medium term. The fast U.S. supply growth has diminished U.S. demand for oil from OPEC members like Nigeria, and in the long term, growing U.S. exports of oil and natural gas could further weaken OPEC, says Amy Myers Jaffe, who studies energy and the oil industry at the University of California at Davis but didn't know the contents of the IEA report.

The IEA, which represents the interests of large, energy-consuming countries, last year forecast that the U.S. could become the world's biggest oil producer by 2020, overtaking OPEC giant Saudi Arabia, though possibly only temporarily.

The surprise upswing in North American production in recent years is the result of faster-than-expected development of resources locked in shale and other tight rock formations in the country, and has changed expectations of future supply and demand world-wide.

According to the IEA, average North American production is expected to grow by 3.9 million barrels a day between 2012 and 2018, accounting for more than half of the increase in non-OPEC production for the period.

Meanwhile, the producers that have historically dominated the oil market face a difficult period as demand for OPEC's oil is expected to slip in the coming years.

As of this year, the IEA expects demand for OPEC oil to fall below 30 million barrels a day—the organization's self-imposed production ceiling. IEA expects that trend to endure until 2018.

The continuing dynamic is "a recipe for crashing prices unless OPEC countries can coordinate in restricting their production in a way they haven't in a long time," said Michael Levi, who studies the effects of growth in U.S. energy production for the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations but didn't know the contents of the IEA report.

The IEA also said instability in North and sub-Saharan Africa will take a toll on production-capacity growth in some OPEC states.

According to the IEA's projections, average OPEC production capacity will rise by 1.75 million barrels a day between 2012 and 2018 to reach 36.75 million barrels a day by the end of the period. The previous estimate pegged OPEC production capacity between 2011 and 2017 to grow 3.34 million barrels a day to 37.54 million barrels a day in 2017.

These changes coupled with the continuing rise in Asian demand will have a profound impact on the market over the next five years, the IEA said.

"There is hardly any aspect of the global oil supply chain that will not undergo some measure of transformation over the next five years, with significant consequences for the global economy and oil security," the IEA said.