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Oil's Dropping... But For How Long?

Over the past few months, oil prices have reversed their springtime surge, dropping from a high of $140 per barrel in June to about $114 per barrel today. One likely explanation is that gasoline demand in the United States has plummeted far faster than anyone expected, as commuters started hopping on buses and trains and people found ways to limit their driving. Still, Joe Romm points to an eyebrow-raising bit from this month's Energy Information Administration report suggesting that this behavioral shift, though impressive, won't be nearly enough to stop prices from climbing upward in the next few years:

Preliminary data indicates that global consumption rose by roughly 500,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) during the first half of 2008 compared with year-earlier levels, as a 1.3-million bbl/d rise in consumption outside of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was partially countered by an 800,000 bbl/d drop in U.S. consumption compared with year-earlier levels ...

Total world oil consumption is expected to grow by a little over 1 million bbl/d during the second half of 2008 and by almost 1 million bbl/d in 2009 compared with year-earlier levels.

The United States may have pulled off the largest half-year decline in oil consumption in three decades (without any sort of shift in energy policy), but that alone won't change the fundamentals: China, India, the Middle East, and Latin America are all thirsty for oil, and that's going to absolutely swamp expected cutbacks in Europe and North America in the years to come. Offsetting a 1-million-barrel-per-day increase in demand each year is going to take a whole lot more than a bit of carpooling or offshore drilling…

--Bradford Plumer