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Exxon CEO: Get used to lower oil prices

Published:Thursday | March 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM
More than 30 oil drilling rigs are idle in a Helmerich & Payne, Inc yard in Odessa, Texas on February 25, 2015.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson expects the price of oil to remain low over the next two years because of ample global supplies and relatively weak economic growth.

"People kinda need to settle in for a while," Tillerson said at the company's annual investor conference in New York.

In a presentation to investors outlining its business plans through 2017, Exxon assumes a price of US$55 a barrel for global crude. That's US$5 below where Brent crude, the most important global benchmark, traded on Wednesday. It's about half of what Brent averaged between 2011 and the middle of last year.

The price of oil plunged in the second half of 2014 when it became apparent that production was outpacing global demand. American production was particularly robust, with the increase of 1.5 million barrels per day being the third largest on record, according to a report from BP. Meanwhile, weakening economic conditions in China, Japan and Europe slowed the growth in oil demand.

BP CEO Bob Dudley made remarks similar to Tillerson's in a recent call with investors. The CEOs comments reflect an increasingly common industry view that new sources of oil around the globe, relatively slow growth in demand, and large amounts of crude in storage will keep a lid on prices for the foreseeable future.

"When you have that much storage out there, it takes a long time to work that off," Dudley said.

The US Energy Department reported Wednesday that American oil supplies have grown to 444.4 million barrels, the highest level at least 80 years.

Tillerson cautioned that geopolitical turmoil could unexpectedly send prices higher. But he said that, if tensions calm, much more oil is ready to hit the market.

Production in Libya has been erratic in recent years because of political upheaval there. Production in Iran, once OPEC's second-largest exporter, has been depressed in recent years because of Western sanctions. Those sanctions could be eased if current talks over Iran's nuclear programme make progress.

"I see a lot of supply out there," Tillerson said.