DUBAI (Reuter) - The world's costly addiction to oil shows no sign of easing and is likely to continue right to the middle of the next century, energy experts say.
Despite the efforts of environmental lobbies to encourage alternative energy sources and punitive government taxes imposed on petrol, motorists and industrial users have not been weaned from the black liquid gold, nor, on current predictions, are likely to be.
"Politicians get very excited about alternative fuels. But there will be no alternative for oil and gas for many years to come...For the next 30 to 50 years oil will remain the foundation of energy," Hisham Khatib, a vice chairman at the World Energy Council, said.
Khatib was addressing industry executives at an oil and gas conference in Dubai, a part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The oil habit will be less easy to kick as fields from the Middle East, Siberia and South America continue to defy earlier predictions that global oil reserves would be running dangerously low by the early 21st century.
"For the next few decades, probably up to 2050, there will be no shortage of global resources of crude oil and natural gas...no viable alternative to oil as the preferred fuel for transport," Khatib said.
The geological prospect of decades worth of untapped oil leads some energy experts to predict stable oil prices and to question the possibility of future energy shocks on the scale of 1973 when an Arab oil export boycott sent the post World War Two economic boom in the Western world into tailspin.
"The ability of hydrocarbon energy sources to keep up with the rise in world demand, despite weak prices, is truly remarkable," Paul Papadopoulos, chief economist at the Bahrain-based Arab Banking Corporation, said.
Forecasts of world oil demand continue to highlight the growing thirst for oil in the years to come.
Led by the growing economies of the Pacific Rim and China, global crude demand of nearly 65 million barrels per day (bpd) in 1994-1995 is set to reach 86 million bpd in 2010 and more than 100 million bpd in 2020, according to Khatib.
And it is likely to be the oil-resource rich states of the Middle East, which already sit on approximately 70 percent of the world's reserves, that will again take center stage in being the guarantor of most of the world's oil.
"There is no shortage in supplying the slowly growing future global energy market demand with oil and gas. Middle East reserves are poised to do that," Khabib said.
Though Middle East states account for less than 30 percent of world production, compared to nearly 40 percent in the mid-seventies, their market share is set to recover in the early part of the next decade, experts told conference delegates.
But not all analysts are as confident that the Western world can simply relax knowing that oil is plentiful under the desert sands and ocean beds of the Middle East producers. "Cheap oil is disappearing fast. Eight percent of the oil produced in 1995 was found before 1973," Jean Laherrere, a consultant at Geneva-based Petroconsultants, said.
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