PROJECTIONS OF energy trends over the past decade have been most notable for their inaccuracy. They nonetheless continue to be made, and among those that have tended to be least wrong are the analyses made each year by the International Energy Agency, whose 20 members represent most of Europe (except France and Warsaw Pact members), Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and North America. The analyses are intended only for internal government use and are therefore surprisingly frank. The 1979 version -- the first draft of which was completed in March -- presents a sobering forecast of oil shortages in the coming years and an urgent call for further government action to limit energy demand.
The IEA report is based first of all on detailed submissions made by each member nation. Together these yield an estimated need for imported oil by IEA members in 1985. IEA experts then make their own projections of available oil supply from OPEC and other producers, and of the import requirements of non-IEA nations. What the report finds is a projected gap -- between need and supply -- of two million to four million barrels a day in 1985, and as much as five million to eight million barrels a day in 1990.
Though these projected shortages are anything but heartening, the report is in one sense an optimistic analysis, for it makes no allowance for political upheavals in the oil-producing states. In the past decade the Middle East has seen more than its share of warfare and struggle. And it would't be farfetched to suppose that other turbulent, if unpredicted, events will occur in the years ahead.
Of course, as the report itself points out, the projected gap will never actually exist. It wil be closed by either very large oil price increases, sudden and painful economic adjustments (more commonly known as a recession), or (preferably) more determined conservation efforts.
The conclusions the IEA experts draw from the events of 1979 are that the "very serious adjustment probelms" previously predicted for the end of the decade "may well be with us now, on a continuing basis." The year 1979 also showed that a very small amount of excess demand in the world market has a disproportionately large effect on price, and that this trend will get worse as oil producers increasingly choose to manage their production more conservatively. Finally, the report concludes that a more stable and certain oil market is essential for economic growth in the West during the 1980s and that, in the time available, stability can come only from greater efforts to control oil demand.
The IEA's report is by no means a message of unrelieved gloom, for it makes clear that much more can be done. In fact, with relatively modest conservation goals, the projected oil shortage can be eliminated. For the United States the "fundamental imperative . . . is to ensure that consumers of energy get the right price signals": in other words, decontrol of oil prices and a gasoline tax that brings U.S. prices up to the world market level. Above all, what the report makes clear is that despite the major changes in energy use since 1974, what has been done so far is nowhere near enough -- not even close.