Cheap Oil and the Investment Problem

Over at the day job, I’m finished looking at solar tax credits (to be printed on paper and thrown on driveways this weekend) and on to the oil price collapse. The question that interests me is the issue of infrastructure investment. Now that oil is under $50 a barrel, what’s happening to the investment in stuff like holes in the ground and big pipes to carry oil hither and yon? Let us turn to our friends at Bloomberg, who did some of the necessary heavy lifting earlier this week:

The biggest oil companies including Saudi Aramco, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Petroleo Brasileiro SA are accelerating spending cuts and delaying projects as the world enters a recession, said Morgan Stanley & Co.

As many as 44 projects have been delayed and faced cuts in investments as of Nov. 18, compared with 19 in a Nov. 5 report, analysts Theepan Jothilingam and James Hubbard said in a note today.

Which brings us to the IEA’s recent report which, Richard Kerr summarized nicely in today’s Science (sub. req.):

Although price spikes and drops may recur for years, says economist Fatih Birol, “we think the era of cheap oil is over.” He and colleagues at the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) just released their World Energy Outlook 2008. IEA analysts see enough oil still in the ground to satisfy ever-rising demand for decades to come–assuming the price continues to rise. But they aren’t at all sure that the Middle Eastern government-owned oil companies sitting on most of the remaining oil will be pumping it fast enough a decade or two from now to meet the unbridled demands of the rest of world.