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IEA projects US to surpass Saudi Arabia as largest global oil producer by about 2020

With global oil demand continuing to increase, the US will replace Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer about 2020, and North America will become a net oil exporter by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.

China, India, and the Middle East will account for 60% of a 30% increase in global energy demand between now and 2035, IEA projects in its World Energy Outlook 2012. By 2035, almost 90% of Middle Eastern oil will flow to Asia, says the IEA.

“The global energy map is changing, with potentially far-reaching consequences for energy markets and trade,” the IEA says.

As The Guardian said last week, the outlook is truly historic: “US reliance on the Gulf for its oil – and its consequent need to maintain a dominant presence in the Middle East to keep the oil flowing – has been one of the constants of the post-1945 status quo. That could be turned on its head. It's been dubbed ‘the homecoming.’ After decades in which the hollowing out of American manufacturing has been chronicled in Bruce Springsteen’s blue-collar laments, cheap energy is being seen as the dawn of a new golden age for the world’s biggest economy.”

The outlook projects an increase in worldwide oil demand to 99.7 million b/d in 2035 from 87.4 million b/d in 2011, driven by a doubling in the number of passenger cars to 1.7 billion and a rapid increase in demand for road freight.

In the new IEA forecast, oil production from outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will rise to a plateau above 53 million b/d after 2015 from less than 49 million b/d in 2011 then will begin in the mid-2020s to ease back to 50 million b/d by 2035.

The non-OPEC increase comes from a surge in unconventional supplies in the US and Canada and deepwater production offshore Brazil. OPEC production increases, especially after 2020, pushing the exporter group's share of global oil production toward 50% by 2035 from 42% at present.

The net increase in global oil production is driven entirely by unconventional oil, including a contribution from light tight oil that exceeds 4 million b/d for much of the 2020s, and by natural gas liquids, IEA says.

The agency says almost 30% of the $15 trillion in upstream oil and gas investment needed through 2035 will be in North America.

Iraq makes the largest single contribution to global oil supply growth in the IEA’s forecast with production exceeding 6 million b/d in 2020 and 8 million b/d in 2035. In the absence of this production growth, the price of imported oil would be $15/bbl higher than the $125/bbl (2011 dollars) in IEA’s base-case projection for 2035.

Demand for natural gas varies by region, increasing by 50% worldwide to 5 trillion cubic meters in 2035, according to IEA. Nearly half the required production increase comes from unconventional resources, especially in the US, Australia, and China. In the US, abundance and low prices help gas overtake oil to claim the largest share of the energy mix about 2030.

Renewable energy in the base-case projection accounts for almost one third of global electricity output by 2035, with solar growing fastest. The increase in renewable energy is stimulated by falling technology costs, rising fossil-fuel prices, carbon pricing, and continued subsidization. The IEA expects global subsidies of renewable energy to rise from $88 billion in 2011 to $240 billion in 2035.

The outlook for coal depends greatly on the strength of policy measures favoring lower-emissions energy sources, deployment of high-efficiency coal-burning technologies, and development of carbon capture and sequestration.

The IEA says it has lowered its expectations for growth in nuclear power as national governments review policies in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan in 2011. It projects growth in installed nuclear power capacity but a slight decline in the nuclear share of total energy use.

Water needs for energy production will grow at twice the rate of energy demand, IEA says. The agency estimates water withdrawals for energy production in 2010 at 583 billion cubic meters, of which 66 billion cubic meters represented consumption, or water withdrawn but not returned to its source.

The IEA projects an increase in energy-related water consumption of 85% through 2035, reflecting more water-intensive power generation and expanding output of biofuels.

Under the IEA assumptions, emissions of greenhouse gases in the base-case scenario correspond to a long-term average global temperature of 3.6º C.

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