The pace of global oil demand growth should increase next year as rising consumption in emerging markets outweighs declines in developed nations hard hit by the high fuel costs and mounting economic problems. The barrel of crude which sold for $65 in 2007 might soon cost $200.

With such astronomical increase coming on top of a credit crunch, economists are talking seriously about the prospect of world recession and, even the worse, stagflation – the lethal combination of inflation and economic stagnation last seen in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

We are told it is all due to a world shortage cause by soaring demand for oil in China and India, and that we can expect record prices to continue for eight years.

But is this really the case? Nowhere in the world are people queuing at petrol pumps; there are no power blackouts and no idle tankers are waiting in the Gulf for oil.

On the contrary, oil storage tanks across the world are full, super tankers are queuing at ports to unload and no major oil field is closed. Across the world, 86million barrels of oil are produced every day which at the moment is sufficient, not least because consumption in America – which burns a quarter of the world’s supply every day – is actually declining.

Alarmists also say that the world’s oil supplies have passed their ‘peak’, that the world has consumed half of all its oil and that the remaining 1trillion barrels will be gone by 2025.

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Oil was unlikely to fall below $100 per barrel as strong demand from emerging economies such as China and India put a floor under prices, a member of Kuwait’s top oil council said in remarks published on Sunday.

Crude prices on the international market are unlikely to drop below $100 a barrel in the near term despite shedding almost $33 per barrel in a month, oil market experts said on Monday.

They say they don’t anticipate a full-blown collapse in crude prices despite a slowdown of the US economy, the world’s biggest oil importer. Neither do they see a major spike in crude prices due to the latest geopolitical tensions erupting between Russia and Georgia, which has led to Russia resorting to airstrikes and pounding Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.

“The oil market doesn’t seem to be very perturbed by the happenings in Georgia. There is a downward bias in the oil market that will continue for a little while,” said Dalton Garis, associate professor of Economics at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi.

On Monday, in early trade, Brent crude futures on the ICE in London were trading a shade above $114 a barrel. In contrast, on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the Nymex crude oil futures for September delivery in the US were trading close to $116.50 per barrel.

“The crude prices in the near-term look like trading in a range of $100-$120 a barrel,” said an oil analyst, who didn’t want to be identified.

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Oil at $150? Very likely and could be soon. How about $170, or even $200? That is possible before the end of this year. There are those who see the price of a barrel of oil hitting $300 and even $500 in the next few years. Impossible you say, well just remember that last year a barrel of crude was selling at $70 and even then the markets were complaining that it was already too high.

The oil conundrum is playing havoc with local, regional and international markets. The producers say it’s not their fault and consumers blame speculators and a battered dollar. Others point to the current crisis between the West and Iran, which in recent days moved from rhetorical ranting to sabre-rattling. There is confusion, fear, mistrust and greed in the oil business today, but what else is new?

Oil has been a central pillar of international politics and trade for decades, and the West has traditionally played dirty games when it came to preserving the life-line of its economy and civilization. Cheap oil enabled Western societies to flourish and expand, the United States being the most notorious example. Wars were waged, coups staged and regimes toppled in order to maintain control of production, exploration rights, distribution and price.

It is unlikely that the rules of the game have changed in recent years, but it is now a fact that the new economies of China, India, Russia and others are competing ever more with the West for a bigger share of available oil. Economic displacement is a matter of time, with studies predicting that China will unseat the US as the biggest world economy in 30 to 40 years if not before.

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Oil, Coal, Natural Gas, Nuclear, Wind, Solar Energy? The world’s energy appetite will at least double by the end of this century (some claim it will triple). If we attempt to meet this burgeoning global demand exclusively with fossil fuels, the environmental consequences are difficult to predict. We are products of a world where energy was long assumed to be cheap, unlimited and readily available. Today, all three assumptions are in question.

In a few short years, the problem of energy has emerged as one of the defining—and most difficult—challenges of the 21st century.

Economic activity is clearly the single most important driver of the energy demand of a country. This demand does change as countries gradually shift from more energy-intense manufacturing industries to service activities or when technological advances make energy use more efficient – but these processes take time and with oil reaching all time highs the effects are already being felt.

Oil; Countries with a high dependency on oil are already suffering higher relative inflation against their peers which will subsequently damage their exports. Spain, Greece or Belgium are already suffering from inflation above the average Euro zone inflation of 3.3%, already way above the 2% untries nuclear and alternatives seem to be the most viable energy sources in the not so distant targeted by the ECB. What alternatives do we have in Europe other than oil?

Coal, the main source of energy in both China and India, is cheaper to extract compared to oil and gas but is highly polluting. Although, vast reserves are still available, rail and harbour bottlenecks, as well as a sharp increase in demand is making supply fall behind.

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