"Peak oil" may have been a very hot topic back in 2008. But not today. Fully 85 percent of respondents reject the notion that world oil supply is about to decline. Implied in that answer, however, is that unconventional "liquids," such as Canadian oil sands and liquids found with natural gas, will be an increasing share of supply.
Who will be the future heavyweight champs when it comes to world oil? Three-quarters of respondents believe the top producer a decade from now will be Saudi Arabia. But 18 percent cast their vote for Russia, and a few even for the United States. The top consumer? Most think that America will remain No. 1, but more than a third predict that by 2025 China will have outstripped the United States.
The surge in Chinese demand and the much-increased visibility of Chinese oil companies around the world have generated a new specter: the possibility of a geopolitical competition and even a clash between the United States and China over access to oil. Yet the heat around that question seemed much greater a few years ago, when peak oil was a more prominent concern than it is today. That shift is borne out in the survey. Three-quarters think access to oil will primarily be "a commercial matter" between the United States and China. But there are certainly dissenters. "Whether directly or indirectly," one said, "access to oil will be the main source of tension in Sino-American relations."
Oil prices have a habit of surprising. After all, they do not exist in a vacuum but are the product of economic growth, political development, and technology. Still, 55 percent believe that, five years from now, prices will be between $100 and $150 a barrel -- around or not too much above where they are today. But notably, 22 percent think prices could be under $100, while only one respondent said they could be above $175. Sixteen percent answered, "Who knows?" Said one, "I would be rich if I could predict this."
Forecasting oil prices is a fraught business, even for experts. But on one thing the majority agree: What happens with Iran, from sanctions on its oil exports to the possibility of conflict if its nuclear negotiations with major world powers fail, will have a big impact, given that the country has been a major exporter, at around 2.2 million barrels per day. Still, other factors could mute the impact of an Iran-related price spike, particularly the big increase in Saudi production and Europe's weak economy. In terms of security of supply, one area is at the top of the list of concerns: 70 percent say that "the impact of a potential oil supply disruption" in some part of the Middle East is what "keeps me up at night." (Twenty-three percent demurred, with one putting it this way: "I sleep well.")
This is a U.S. election year, of course, and energy will likely be one of the major issues. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being worst, the respondents gave President Barack Obama what averaged out to a 5.8, with the biggest cluster around 7 and 8. Climate change, in various forms, was identified as America's No. 1 energy problem, and many likewise think the Obama administration's "biggest mistake on energy issues so far" is "not enough attention to climate change." Agreeing with Mitt Romney, 56 percent support the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama has rejected for now, while 31 percent oppose it and 13 percent are not committed. At the top of the "biggest success" list for the Obama administration are "new fuel-economy standards" for automobiles and "a measured approach to natural gas drilling."
Overall, the survey makes one thing very clear. For years, the prospects of an "energy transition" away from conventional energy and toward new alternatives have been much debated. Whatever the timing for any transition, the FP Survey demonstrates that a transition in energy thinking is certainly at hand.