$100 oil: Will we ever see it again?

It has been nearly a year since the crash of oil prices. While they've slowly rebounded, experts weigh in on whether crude will ever return to its previous highs.

Experts weigh in on whether oil will ever reach its previous price highs

The only consensus among industry experts who gathered in Calgary this week for the Energy Visions 2015 event is that the price of oil will be volatile. (Associated Press)

The oil price crash of the last year has the energy world wondering if crude will ever again see the triple-digit prices of the last decade. For its part, the oil industry is both wistful and hopeful that prices will some day regain their former glory.

What's at stake is billions of dollars for the Canadian industry, thousands of jobs across the country and, of course, the price we all pay at the pumps.

Hundred dollar oil is neither rare nor new.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the North American benchmark, surpassed $100 in each of the last four years. But since prices began tumbling last July, there has been a consensus that the price recovery will be long, slow and erratic.

The main reason is the oversupply of oil around the globe. There is no consensus about whether prices will ever fully recover and surge beyond the $100 mark per barrel.

While predicting the price of oil is fraught with risk, here are the thoughts of a blue-ribbon panel of experts who gathered in Calgary this week for the Energy Visions 2015 event.

No way

The global oversupply of oil is taking a considerable amount of time to level out. Storage facilities are nearly full and many companies are not only maintaining production levels, but in many cases, increasing output.

That's largely why Meghan O'Sullivan, a Harvard University professor and former special assistant to then U.S. President George Bush, doubts oil will ever climb to its previous heights.

"Will prices be sustained over $100? Doubtful," she says.

She sees the hefty amount of supply to continue over the next few years.

"We have, from 2011 to 2014, had enormous production gains in the United States and production gains on the global level. That energy abundance will continue," she says.


Kevin Lynch, vice-chairman of BMO Financial Group, is a little more optimistic about where crude could be headed, but says companies shouldn't bank on it.

"Don't plan on hope," says Lynch. 

He suggests companies prepare for low oil prices, and if crude begins to soar in value, so too will profits.

Yes, and possibly soon

You can count Robert Johnston in the group of people who believe oil could once again surpass the $100 mark. The CEO of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy firm, points to the continued rise in global energy demand. 
Robert Johnston, with the Eurasia Group, is among experts who believe oil could once again surpass the $100 mark. 'Ultimately, we'll need $100 oil,' he said. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

"Ultimately, we'll need $100 oil," says Johnston, suggesting the high price will help producers be able to keep up with demand.

Paul Stevens, a research associate at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and a consultant for industry and government, not only agrees prices could surpass the $100 mark, but thinks it could happen as early as next month because of the high level of volatility in the Middle East.

Stevens and O'Sullivan say turmoil in the Middle East is as high as it has ever been since the the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.

"This volatility that we are going to see will have a very large geopolitical component," says O'Sullivan. "There is such a great deal of uncertainty surrounding every producing country there, even Saudi Arabia."

No idea

The uncertainty is largely why some people are fearful of making any prediction.

Rich Kruger, CEO of Imperial Oil, won't even hazard a guess about where crude prices will go, or when.

His excessively loose guess drew laughs from the crowd at the event. 
Imperial Oil CEO Rich Kruger talks to reporters earlier this year. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

"I don't have a clue where oil prices are going to be. My best guess is somewhere between where it is now and where it was before it started to fall."

Generally, he's preparing for the worst.

​"We are looking at this like we could be in for a sustained period of lower prices, and we'll be operating and planning our business on that basis."


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