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Did China Cause North Dakota’s Oil Boom?

News about the Chinese economy has become a bit worrisome, for instance from the New York Times earlier this week, “China Confronts Mounting Piles of Unsold Goods“:

After three decades of torrid growth, China is encountering an unfamiliar problem with its newly struggling economy: a huge buildup of unsold goods that is cluttering shop floors, clogging car dealerships and filling factory warehouses.

The glut of everything from steel and household appliances to cars and apartments is hampering China’s efforts to emerge from a sharp economic slowdown. It has also produced a series of price wars and has led manufacturers to redouble efforts to export what they cannot sell at home.

The severity of China’s inventory overhang has been carefully masked by the blocking or adjusting of economic data by the Chinese government — all part of an effort to prop up confidence in the economy among business managers and investors.

Now looking backward at oil prices over the last decade, how much of growing demand for oil has come from China?

According to IEA data, China consumed about 4.7 million barrels a day in 2000 and will consume about 9.7 million barrels a day in 2012. That growth has been among the factors pushing world oil prices from near $30/barrel in 2000 to this year’s prices ranging between $80 and $110.

High prices and technological improvements, particularly since about 2007, have also motivated the addition of new supply capability which is just recently coming to market.

So here is an idea: if Chinese demand growth was a significant boost to oil prices, then maybe without that boost fewer folks would have been so excited about drilling in the farther reaches of the Bakken Shale (and the Eagle Ford in Texas, and the Marcellus and Utica shales in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio). So what happens if demand from China doesn’t reach over 10 million barrels a day, as the IEA is predicting, and instead falls to 7 or 6 or 5 — just as new supplies are coming to market? Where will oil prices be a year from now?

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Raoul LeBlanc's picture
Raoul LeBlanc on September 4, 2012

Certainly china's growth was a pillar of demand in the 2000's. Interestingly, however, that level of Asian growth was not new.  In fact, if you compare oil demand growth in Asia from 1990-97 to the growth from 2000-07, you will find that it was higher in the first period on BOTH an absolute and percentage basis. This was due to the phenomenal growth of the "Asian Tigers."

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