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Exxon Mobil peers ahead at energy world in 2030

Associated Press Modified: January 27, 2011 at 8:54 pm •  Published: January 27, 2011
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c.2010 Houston Chronicle< Global demand for energy will increase 35 percent by 2030, with natural gas surpassing coal as the world's second-most used fuel behind oil, Exxon Mobil Corp. said in an internal forecast made public Thursday.

The growth will come primarily from developing nations like China, where booming economies are lifting living standards. But the environmental impact of the greater usage will be lessened by efficiency gains and a shift toward less-polluting fuels, the Texas oil giant said in its "Outlook for Energy: A View to 2030."

The report is not far afield from previous annual forecasts by Exxon Mobil and those by other energy companies and analysts. But it does find Exxon Mobil making a more aggressive prediction than it did a year ago about the role of natural gas in the global energy mix over the next two decades.

Shale bounty

Technological breakthroughs have allowed oil and gas companies to extract vast quantities of natural gas from dense shales and other rock formations once thought too costly to explore. Production from these so-called unconventional formations is expected to meet more than half of U.S. demand by 2030, Exxon Mobil said.

With global supplies also abundant, demand for natural gas for electricity generation will rise 85 percent from 2005 and 2030, and chip away at coal's dominance in the sector, the report said.

Fueled by such gains, natural gas will meet 26 percent of global energy demand by 2030, up from 21 percent in 2005, the company predicts.

Wind, solar and biofuels will also grow sharply, but even with the increases they will still represent about 2.5 percent of total global energy demand by 2030, the report said. Fossil fuels including oil, natural gas and coal are expected to account for the lion's share of demand over that period.

Biggest in natural gas

In late 2009, Exxon Mobil announced a $41 billion deal to purchase Fort Worth's XTO Energy in a transaction that, once closed last year, made it the nation's largest natural gas producer. Other oil majors including Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Corp. have also announced big-ticket acquisitions to increase their presence in U.S. shale plays. But with natural gas prices low, investors are still waiting for the deals to pay off.

Bill Colton, Exxon Mobil's vice president for corporate strategic planning, called the outlook report the most fundamental tool the company uses for developing business plans.

But he said the forecast should not necessarily be seen as a sign the company will become a more aggressive investor in natural gas or fast-growing renewables. The public should not expect any major deviation in its strategy, he told reporters Thursday in a conference call.

''We are primarily an oil and gas company," he said, "so we are looking for value for our shareholders and value for our customers to provide what they'll need in the future."

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