BP Predicts: Plastics Bans Will Slow Oil Demand Growth

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CC BY 2.0. Every year, 1.5 million barrels of crude oil are used to make plastic bottles, by epSps.de/flickr

Although the rest of their predictions are best viewed through oil-tinted spectacles...

From Glastonbury Festival banning plastic bottles to Seattle getting serious about reducing plastic straws, plastics—and in particular single-use plastics—appear to be facing some political headwinds of late. Indeed a topic that, for the longest time, was mostly discussed in terms of personal responsibility and consumer choice is finally becoming a serious subject of policy debate and institutional/corporate action.

We're not the only ones to think so.

In fact, as reported by Bloomberg, oil giant BP just revised down its growth forecast due—in part—to policy-level interventions that will target single use plastics. True, packaging only makes up about 3% of global oil use, and BP is only attributing about a 2 million barrel a day cut to plastics policies. But it is still worthy of note that plastic bans won't just help save our oceans, they'll help put the squeeze on Big Energy too.

Of course, BP's energy predictions should always be taken with a heavy pinch of salt. Every year, they revise up renewables based on past trends. And every year, they predict that oil growth will continue for decades to come—regardless of electric vehicle demand or increasingly aggressive national or sub-national climate policies. As if to demonstrate this point, the same Bloomberg report quotes BP Chief Economist Spencer Dale as saying electric vehicles will have "almost no effect on oil demand," because growth in EVs will be offset by less investment in efficiency for trucks, SUVs and other heavier vehicles.

This perspective smacks more than a little of wishful thinking from Big Oil. Whether it's entire cities adopting electric-only buses, countries gunning for electric-only short haul flights, or companies making major investments in electric-only freight, oil demand may soon get squeezed from the heavy duty end of transportation too.

Ultimately, though, predictions are just predictions. And it's less important which you believe is more likely: BP's oil centric views or Tony Seba's disruptive vision of almost complete electrification. Instead, choose which future is more desirable, and then do what you can to make that future happen.

On this, BP can provide us with some valuable clues. If they say plastics bans hurt oil demand, then that's one more reason to push for those plastics bans.