WASHINGTON — The boom in oil from shale formations in recent years has generated a lot of discussion that the United States could eventually return to energy self-sufficiency, but according to a report released Tuesday by the International Energy Agency, production of such oil in the United States and worldwide will provide only a temporary respite from reliance on the Middle East.
The agency's annual World Energy Outlook, released in London, said the world oil picture was being remade by oil from shale, known as light tight oil, along with new sources like Canadian oil sands, deepwater production off Brazil and the liquids that are produced with new supplies of natural gas.
"But, by the mid 2020s, non-OPEC production starts to fall back and countries from the Middle East provide most of the increase in global supply," the report said.
A high market price for oil will help stimulate drilling for light tight oil, the report said, but the resource is finite, and the low-cost suppliers are in the Middle East.
"There is a huge growth in light tight oil that will peak around 2020, and then it will plateau," said Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency.
The agency was founded in response to the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974 by oil-importing nations.
The agency's assessment of world supplies is consistent with an estimate by the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, which forecasts higher levels of U.S. oil production from shale to continue until the late teens, and then slow rapidly.
"We expect the Middle East will come back and be a very important producer and exporter of oil, just because there are huge resources of low-cost light oil," van der Hoeven said. "Light tight oil is not low-cost oil."
Predicting energy trends is notoriously difficult. For example, hardly anybody predicted the revolution in oil and gas production created by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in shale.
The energy outlook, which makes projections through 2035, does not anticipate breakthroughs, although it expects continued reductions in cost for electricity from renewable sources. Electricity from wind and the sun, though, may command less revenue going forward, as it becomes harder to integrate into the electric system, because it cannot be turned on at will.