"Oil May Finally Be Peaking" BY EDOARDO CAMPANELLA | JULY 13, 2020
After Decades of Wrong Predictions, Oil May Finally Be Peaking
Thanks to the pandemic, demand is flattening faster than expected. In turn, the energy economy could transform sooner rather than later. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/13/peak-oil-pandemic-predictions/
"Now, the coronavirus pandemic, which appears to be accelerating trends—greener economies and decreased mobility—that until February seemed to be at least one decade away, might finally break the mold. This time, though, peak oil could come on the demand side of the market rather than on the supply one. Such change would mark a shift from perceived oil scarcity to oil abundance that could radically transform the structure of the oil market—even more than the shale revolution itself.
"Given the variety of long-term demand scenarios, energy companies have typically brushed off peak-demand arguments. However, COVID-19 might change that if it permanently transforms individuals’ behavior and societal priorities.
"Mobility is the No. 1 factor that could change the calculations. Although tourist activity is likely to rebound and return to pre-crisis levels in a couple of years, especially if a coronavirus vaccine is found, remote work arrangements might drastically reduce commuting mileage for millions of workers. According to some estimates, in the eurozone, over a quarter of jobs can, at least in theory, be performed from home. Similar estimates apply to the United States, too. In Europe, the average one-way work commute is just over 9 miles, whereas in the United States it is above 11 miles. Imagine the gasoline saved if millions of people stop commuting.
"Moreover, COVID-19 might lead to a significant decline in business trips in favor of videoconferencing that would not only reduce operational costs but could also lead to productivity gains thanks to more time spent at the desk than in an airport. Some industrial activities might even be reshored to reduce vulnerability to shocks that affect business partners located elsewhere around the globe, particularly for the production of goods in sensitive sectors such as health or national security. The shortage of face masks, which had primarily been produced in China, during the early days of the pandemic forced governments not only to find new suppliers but also to suddenly encourage the conversion of some domestic firms into mask producers. And new digital technologies that tend to reduce reliance on low-skilled workers will lower the incentives for companies to slice and dice their production around the world. The Fourth Industrial Revolution could significantly compress the length of global value chains.
"Finally, the positive impact of the lockdowns on air quality might incentivize greener behavior in the future. In April, when around 4 billion people were stuck at home, air pollution suddenly dropped across the world, suggesting to policymakers a clear direction for seriously reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Voters might strongly push in this direction. Clearly, the solution is not shutting down entire economies. But governments might introduce tax incentives to induce companies to rely more on flexible arrangements for those jobs that can be efficiently performed remotely. Moreover, the cycling routes that were built across the major cities to reduce the use of public transportation may well remain permanently.
"All these behavior changes would have a big impact on oil demand.