Key forum to tackle major energy industry concerns


The world's largest forum of energy producers and consumers meets in Mexico this week for talks on tackling major industry concerns including oil price volatility and the outlook for supply and demand.

The International Energy Forum (IEF), which groups together energy producing and consuming countries accounting for more than 90 per cent of global oil and gas supply, holds its latest biennial conference in the beach resort of Cancún.

The two-day ministerial conference beginning tomorrow will build on the 11th IEF in Rome in 2008 and two ad hoc meetings in Jeddah and London in the second half of that year when oil prices spiked to record highs before plunging.

A ministerial declaration expected to touch on the issue of oil price volatility is due to be published at the conclusion of the IEF on Wednesday.

Crude oil futures endured a roller-coaster ride in the second half of 2008, when they hit record highs of above $147 a barrel on supply concerns before tumbling to $32 due to the severe global economic downturn.

Prices have since recovered to trade between $70 and $80 – a range that is pleasing both producers and consumers. However, the risk of volatility remains owing to an uncertain economic recovery and unrest in major oil producers such as Iran, Iraq and Nigeria.

Ahead of the IEF, Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali Al Nuaimi said while it was impossible to "eliminate" market volatility, producers, consumers and investors could "lessen the amplitude of the swings" through dialogue.

Mexico's Secretary of Energy Georgina Kessel Martinez said the forum also needed to look at "uncertainties affecting future supply and demand outlooks [and] unlocking the barriers holding back investment".

The energy sector was also concerned with "encouraging increased co-operation and partnership among national and international companies, broadening energy access, and advancing clean technologies", said Martinez, whose country is co-hosting the IEF with Germany and Kuwait.

Running alongside the IEF in Cancún will be the 4th International Energy Business Forum, to be attended by 36 companies, including bosses of oil majors China National Petroleum Corporation, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

A total 64 countries are expected to send ministers to the 12th IEF and will be joined by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) – whose member countries together pump about 40 per cent of the world's crude.

Also attending will be Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency – the energy-monitoring arm of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development grouping of the world's 30 leading industrialised nations. High on the agenda in Cancún will be the issue of energy security.

"When the consumer countries talk about energy security it's always about: 'Are they going to be supplied with enough energy at affordable prices?'" said Noe van Hulst, Secretary-General of the IEF. "The other side of the coin for the producer countries is: 'Will there be security of demand for the energy they are producing?'"

He said the forum would be asking whether producers and consumers can have greater convergence over how the use of biofuels and other renewable energy was impacting demand for oil and gas now and in the future. The forum will also look at the issues of energy poverty and moves to reduce carbon emissions.

"Energy poverty is still as big a problem as it was many years ago," said van Hulst. "We should be looking at why is this still such a stubborn problem and why is the world community not able to tackle it more effectively. I think that most people would agree that having billions of people without access to modern energy is not something that is acceptable in the long run.

"If those billions of people would have more access to modern energy, yes there would be an impact perhaps on emissions but it could be negligible in terms of the bigger picture."

However, van Hulst conceded that as fossil fuels "will remain dominant for decades and decades to come" the world needed to make the production and consumption of such energy more environmentally-friendly.


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