Although oil producing nations might not like the recent troughs in oil prices, refineries in Europe are experiencing good times even with petrol and diesel prices being relatively high.
According to The Economist refining hasn’t been the most profitable business as overcapacity has dogged the industry. Oil companies had assumed that the world demand for petrol would continue to expand rapidly and built refineries to cope with the this added pressure. However with oil demand peaking this led to an over-supply in the market. Furthermore in the developing world new and more efficient refineries have added to the problem and this had led to some changes in the market players this year.
* Petroplus (Swiss refinery) went out of business
* Shell bought a former Petroplus plant in London and downgraded it to a storage facility.
* Sunoco biggest refinery in north-eastern US is in trouble financially
* Refineries in Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands have ceased production
Demand for petrol is falling in both the US and Europe as:
* People are driving less
* People are switching to more fuel-efficient cars – especially diesel. This has caused some concerns as Europe’s refineries cannot easily switch to producing more diesel.
Oil Prices 2012
The chart below from the Sustainability Blog shows the oil production has reached an effective cap at around 75 million barrels of regular crude per day. Production over the past six years has increased little despite continued upward oil prices. This they argue has occurred as the oil industry passed a transition point and moved from an elastic supply curve to an inelastic supply curve.
While global oil demand remains relatively weak today, with the International Energy Agency predicting global oil demand growth in 2012 of around 1.1 million barrels per day, that inelastic supply curve could yet push oil prices back up to record levels which in turn will increase costs for the refining industry.