NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - A plunge in oilfield spending means non-OPEC oil output could soon fall, raising prices and potentially derailing any global economic recovery.
A growing number of forecasts predicting a fall reflect a major drop in oil drilling because of lower crude prices and tighter credit, and defy an earlier market consensus that non-OPEC output would rise through the economic downturn.
Global oilfield spending will probably fall 30 percent this year, cutting non-OPEC supply by 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd) by the end of 2010, and pushing oil prices up another 60 percent, Sanford Bernstein forecast.
Barclays Capital saw a potential drop of 1.5 million bpd, or 3 percent of non-OPEC supply, and a 70 percent price rise from current levels to $85/bbl in 2010. Deutsche Bank saw a 280,000 bpd decline this year.
Some of these analysts were among the most bullish on oil prices, but they expected a new reality of falling oil output will soon be recognized more widely.
The International Energy Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and OPEC still see non-OPEC output firm or rising.
But they have already cut supply forecasts sharply, and may do so again.
“We’re looking at a decline. There is often a lag before the data catches up with reality,” said Benjamin Dell, senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein in New York.
“Lower oil prices could lead to lots of marginal fields being shut in the U.S., the UK, Norway and Russia.”
A fall in non-OPEC ouput — which accounts for two-thirds of world supply — could push oil prices up sharply when demand rebounds during an economic recovery.
The drop in oil prices is among few bright spots for consumers this year. The price of a barrel has averaged $43, down from around $100 last year. Benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery was trading near $48 a barrel on Wednesday.
The IEA’s Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka has said $40 oil would amount to a $1 trillion economic stimulus for the global economy in 2009 and some have said the figure is higher.
Global oil demand fell in 2008 and should slide further this year, the first demand reductions since 1983.
Production may fall even faster.
The IEA said the oil market would be under-supplied by late 2009 if OPEC fully complied with the 4.2 million bpd of cuts it has announced since September 2008.
“While everyone has been so focused on short-term demand, it now looks like we’ll see some real tightening in the market in 2010 due to the drop-off in non-OPEC supply,” said Amrita Sen, analyst at Barclays Capital in London.
“There could be a real run-up in prices just as the world economy begins to recover, which is the last thing the economy needs on the way out of a recession.”
Non-OPEC production may fall most in Russia and the United States, the No. 2 and No. 3 global oil producers after OPEC member Saudi Arabia. Berstein saw the two countries’ output declining a combined 1.55 million bpd through 2010.
Analysts also warned of potentially large drops in Mexico, the No. 6 producer, whose mature Cantarell offshore field has entered a decline, and in No. 7 Canada, with its expensive oilsands production. Other at-risk regions include Norwegian and UK offshore fields.
In the U.S., the number of rigs drilling for oil and gas has fallen by almost 50 percent since September, 2008, the steepest decline since 1986, oil services company Baker Hughes said.
The global rig-count fell by 8 percent from September through February, and is expected to fall further in coming months, a spokesman said.
JP Morgan commodities analyst Lawrence Eagles said he still expected modest growth in non-OPEC output, as a recent 20 percent fall in drilling costs in some regions helps to forestall decline.
Cambridge Energy Research Associates saw no immediate non-OPEC fall, but last week CERA scaled back its forecast for world oil output capacity in 2014 by 7 percent, or 7.6 million barrels.
Some analysts wondered why companies with cash would choose to spend it on drilling. Dell said it costs around $20-25 a barrel to find new oil, while the price of buying competing oil companies — and their existing reserves — is $10-12 a barrel.
Additional reporting by Robert Campbell in Mexico