OECD/ITF Joint Transport Research Centre Discussion Papers

The International Transport Forum at the OECD is an intergovernmental organisation with 52 member countries. It acts as a strategic think tank for transport policy and organizes an annual summit of ministers. Our work is underpinned by economic research, statistics collection and policy analysis, often undertaken in collaboration with many of the world's leading research figures in academia, business and government. This series of Discussion Papers is intended to disseminate the International Transport Forum’s research findings rapidly among specialists in the field concerned.

English, French

Future Prices and Availability of Transport Fuels

It is a truism that future prices of energy for transportation will be determined by the forces of supply and demand. For transport fuels, these forces have entered a crucial phase that is likely to persist for several decades. Oil production from conventional resources outside of the OPEC countries will peak within a few years. Unconventional fossil resources that can be exploited at current prices, resources whose early development is already well underway, pose an even greater threat to the global climate. To bring these resources to the market at a rate to match the growth in demand for mobility fuels in the developed and developing economies will require massive, risky investments. Serious risks are posed by the environmental acceptability of these fuels and also by the fact that a sudden downturn in world oil prices would turn them into stranded assets. It is also a truism that no one can accurately predict the price of oil. Today, oil costs $70 per barrel. Ten years ago, it cost less than $20 per barrel. Twenty seven years ago oil prices peaked at $90 per barrel. Thirty-seven years ago oil cost only $10 per barrel and its price had been relatively stable for almost fifty years. Those who carefully craft future oil price scenarios know that they are not predicting but rather attempting to define alternative paths of central tendency. Even the best official oil price projections look nothing like the past thirty-five years of history. It is important to understand why this is so. Since 1972, world oil prices have been strongly and unpredictably influenced by the actions of the OPEC cartel. It is very likely that they will be for the next thirty years, as well.


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