LONDON: The Middle East was the fastest growing region for oil consumption except China over the last decade as young populations and booming economies simulated a surge in fuel demand.
The Middle East is not only one of the world’s most important producers and exporters of oil; in recent years it has become one of the most important and fast-growing consumers.
In an example of the destabilizing positive feedback loops in the oil market, the richer the countries around the Gulf became, the more their own internal energy consumption surged, and the more they contributed to oil demand.
Positive feedback from the Middle East’s own oil consumption amplified the oil boom from 2004 to 2014; now it threatens to make the downturn worse.
Consumption of gasoline, distillates, fuel oil and other petroleum products across the region grew at a compound average rate of 3.9 percent per year between 2004 and 2014.
Middle East oil consumption grew almost four times faster than the world average, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015.
In 2004, the Middle East consumed around 6 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude and petroleum products, which accounted for 7 percent of the world total.
By 2014, Middle East consumption had risen nearly 50 percent to 8.7 million bpd, around 9.5 percent of the world total.
Extra oil consumed in the Middle East (+2.8 million bpd) accounted for 30 percent of all the growth in worldwide oil demand (+9.0 million bpd) between 2004 and 2014 (tmsnrt.rs/20etate).
The more oil prices increased, the more revenue poured into the countries of the region, the faster their economies expanded, and the more fuel they consumed.
Countries in the Middle East are among the world’s highest per capita energy consumers, thanks to the harsh climate, rising incomes and subsidies which mean fuel and electricity prices are cheap.
The population of Saudi Arabia increased from 10 million in 1980 to 28 million in 2010, according to the United Nations Population Division.
The population of the United Arab Emirates increased from 1 million in 1980 to more than 8 million in 2010 (“World Population Prospects,” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2015).
Saudi Arabia’s gross national income per capita increased more than tripled from $7,000 in 1990 to $25,000 in 2013 (“World Development Indicators,” World Bank, 2015).
And the economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries grew at a compound average rate of 5.8 percent per year between 2000 and 2012 (“Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia”, IMF, 2015).
At the same, regional gasoline, diesel and electricity rates have remained tightly controlled and highly subsidized so that they are among the cheapest in the world.
Countries around the Gulf subsidized fossil fuel consumption by around $200 billion in 2014, and accounted for 40 percent of all fossil fuel subsidies worldwide (“Fossil Fuel Subsidies Database”, IEA, 2015).
The result is that Gulf countries consume 40 percent more energy per capita than their counterparts in Europe and 150 percent more than the world average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
However, with oil prices falling by more than 70 percent since June 2014, the Gulf economies are heading for a sharp slowdown, and possibly a recession.
And as falling oil prices cut government revenues and send budget balances deep into the red most countries have also been cutting subsidies and raising energy prices, which will further restrain demand growth.
Middle East oil consumption is set to grow much more slowly over the 2015-2019 period than it did between 2010 and 2014.
The regional slowdown complicates the outlook for OPEC, which is relying on an acceleration in global oil demand to absorb some of the excess production and create more demand for its own oil exports.
The slowdown in Middle East oil demand growth means that OPEC is relying ever-more heavily on continued growth in China, other emerging markets, and North America to rebalance the market.
But with global stock markets falling and increasing gloom about the health of the world economy, the outlook for oil demand in all those regions is weakening, which is in turn intensifying downward pressure on prices and the Middle East producers themselves.