To meet the anticipated growth in liquid fuels consumption in the Reference case, we expect a steady increase in crude oil and lease condensate production throughout the projection period. Crude oil is the primary raw material used in the petroleum refining process, and it is a necessary precursor for many finished petroleum products (for example, gasoline, diesel, fuel oil) demanded by all sectors of the economy.
In the Reference case, both OPEC and non-OPEC oil production grow over the projection period, but OPEC production grows at almost three times the rate of non-OPEC production between 2020 and 2050. To meet increasing demand, countries will need to rely on increased exploration (to identify additional resources), increased drilling (to harvest new and proven reserves), and technology advances (to achieve greater production yields).
The IEO2021 side cases represent alternative assumptions about macroeconomic growth and crude oil prices. In all five of these cases, liquid fuels consumption is higher in 2050 than in 2020, reaching a high of 64% above 2020 levels in the High Economic Growth case. OPEC and non-OPEC resources are adequate to meet demand levels in all five cases. The IEO2021 Reference and side cases assume current laws and regulations, including for carbon emissions, and assume some level of geopolitical stability and cooperation to reach these levels of production.9
Although consumption in the Reference case reaches approximately 125 million barrels per day (b/d) by 2050, consumption is highest in the High Economic Growth case, where it reaches approximately 151 million b/d of total liquid fuels in 2050, exhibiting significant growth from current levels. Canada, Iran, Iraq, and Russia all have large undeveloped crude oil resources and so could expand production to help meet 2050 global demand in the High Economic Growth case. Although Saudi Arabia and the United States are also large resource holders, their resources have been more systematically developed and likely have less room to expand beyond their historical levels of production.
Natural gas plant liquids (NGPLs) are a coproduct of natural gas production, and in our Reference case, NGPL production grows approximately 50% by 2050—a faster rate than crude oil production—driven by high demand for NGPLs in the industrial sector. NGPLs include ethane, liquefied petroleum gases (propane, normal butane, and isobutane), and natural gasoline. These products commonly serve as industrial feedstocks across the world and are critical in the production of plastics and other petrochemicals. Ethane and propane are key industrial feedstocks used to produce ethylene and propylene, which support a wide variety of plastics, fibers, coatings, labels, packaging, cleaners, and other manufactured goods. Propane is also used as a residential heating source, for crop drying, and in the transportation sector. Normal butane, isobutane, and natural gasoline serve as industrial feedstocks. Normal butane and natural gasoline are also used in the transportation sector. In recent years, the infrastructure to process NGPLs and turn them into high-demand consumer and industrial materials has grown. This growth will support an increase in supply of NGPLs.
9More information on how we model climate policies is available in our companion article, Climate Considerations in the International Energy Outlook (IEO2021).
OPEC production grows at almost three times the rate of non-OPEC production between 2020 and 2050.