Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Greenpeace study finds oil companies may be doomed

Guardian | Environmental activist network argues that the oil industry might be approaching a tipping point from fall in the price, advances in technology and policies on climate change

A long-term decline in the demand for oil could undermine the huge investments in Canadian tar sands, which have been heavily opposed by environmentalists, according to a report published today.

The report, by Greenpeace, will make uncomfortable reading for the companies that are investing tens of billions of pounds to exploit the hard-to-extract oil in the belief that demand and the price would climb inexorably as countries such as China and India industrialise.

Citing projections from the oil producers' cartel Opec and the International Energy Agency, as well as various oil experts, the report casts doubt on the conventional assumption that consumption and prices will begin gathering pace once the world pulls itself out of recession.

It argues that alongside the cyclical fall in the oil price there are more fundamental structural changes taking place. These are driven by advances in energy efficiency and alternative energy, cleaner vehicles, government policies on climate change and concerns over energy security. Greenpeace has posted the report to 200 shareholders in Shell and BP, including pension funds, in an effort to put pressure on the companies to think again. BP reports quarterly results tomorrow and Shell on Thursday.

Lorne Stockman, the author of the report, said: "A peak in oil demand was barely discussed even a year ago, but now it is a viable idea. When it happens, I wouldn't want to guess, but it will happen sooner than we thought. There has been lots of talk about a supply peak, but it is good to start talking about a demand peak, and that has huge implications for these companies.

"All of the international oil companies as you look beyond 2020 need a high oil price to be profitable, because they are increasingly being pushed to develop expensive resources in not just the tar sands, but in deep water and offshore Arctic sites.

"But there is something more structural going on," he added. "Governments are beginning to act, and not just the Obama administration. In the EU, the policy driver is climate change, and in China and the US, it is about energy security and the vulnerability of the economy to volatility in the oil price."