U.S. 2008 oil demand to drop most since 1980: EIA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The weak U.S. economy will slash America’s oil demand this year by 1.1 million barrels per day, or 5.4 percent, the first time annual oil consumption will fall by more than 1 million bpd since 1980, the federal Energy information Administration said on Wednesday.

Daryl Batey fills his gas tank at a Kroger fuel station after waiting in line due to gasoline shortages in the state in Stone Mountain, Georgia, September 29, 2008. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

For 2009, total U.S. oil demand was projected to drop by an additional 250,000 bpd, or 1.3 percent, the Energy Department’s analytical arm said in its new monthly forecast.

“The current U.S. and global economic downturn has led to a decrease in global energy demand and a rapid and substantial reduction in crude oil and other energy prices,” the agency said.

The EIA lowered its estimate for U.S. real gross domestic product growth to 1.3 percent this year and projected GDP will decline by 1.4 percent in 2009.

The U.S. average unemployment rate was expected to jump to 7.9 percent next year, the EIA said.

World real GDP growth was projected to slow from about 4 percent in 2006 and 2007 to about 2.5 percent this year, and to 1.8 percent in 2009, the agency said.

Global oil demand was expected to increase by only 100,000 bpd this year and remain virtually flat next year, the EIA said.

Between 2007 and 2009, oil consumption in non-industrialized countries, especially China, Latin America and the Middle East, was projected to rise by 2.3 million bpd, which will be offset by a 2.2 million bpd decline in demand in industrialized nations, including the United States and the European Union, the agency said.

As a result of the sputtering economy and lower petroleum demand, the price for the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil will average $63.50 a barrel next year, the EIA said.

The agency said OPEC’s planned oil production cut of 1.5 million bpd “may limit, but not reverse” the recent sharp drop in oil prices.

EIA said it expects OPEC’s crude oil production to drop from 32.3 million bpd in October to 31.3 million during the first quarter of 2009 and remain relatively stable through the end of next year. The 1 million bpd decline would represent about 70 percent of OPEC’s announced production cut.

“We project oil prices to remain relatively flat, averaging $60 to $65 per barrel throughout 2009,” the EIA said. Oil hit a record $147 a barrel in July.

“The condition of the global economy is expected to remain the most important factor driving world oil prices,” the agency said.

Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by David Gregorio