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Cheap oil gone forever, magnate Pickens says

The recent run-up of oil prices caught millions of consumers off guard and left energy companies questioning whether the near-record prices will last.

Oklahoma State University alum and nationally recognized oil man Boone Pickens, however, was one of the first to predict the surge, saying in May the price would reach $50 before $30. It was a bold forecast when prices were near $35.

The price reached 60 cents shy of Pickens' prediction last month before retreating as low as $42. The price closed down $1.80 Friday to $42.81 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Despite what he calls short-term fluctuations, however, Pickens said increasing worldwide demand and flat production will lead to significantly higher prices in the near future.

"You're in a trending up situation with a commodity that is getting in shorter and shorter supply," Pickens said. "It's going to have very volatile movements up and down from that trend, and so you could see it get up to anything. But I don't think I'll ever see oil at $35 a barrel again."

Pickens prediction gained significant support this summer, and many other industry experts now predict the price will not drop below $30 to $35 in the foreseeable future.

"Pickens has a pretty good track record at seeing where prices will go," said Bruce Bell, chairman of the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association of Oklahoma.

Pickens, Bell and other local and national energy industry observers estimate current worldwide demand to be almost equal to worldwide production of about 82 million barrels a day. Oil consumption is expected to increase by several millions barrels over the next few years, led by rapid growth in countries such as China, India and other -- mostly developing -- nations.

Pickens said world demand likely will reach 83 million barrels by December and 84 million by sometime in 2005.

While demand is expected to increase, however, Pickens and others also say world production has or will soon peak, meaning the world's producers will be unable to recover more than the current 82 million barrels a day.

"We will have to produce 30 billion barrels of oil a year just to keep up with usage," Pickens said. "I don't know where we can add production that would materially affect that supply. I'm very grim on the idea that there's going to be supply showing up somewhere we can't account for at this time."

Other industry experts, however, are more optimistic.

"Increasingly tight supply and demand levels have put prices in a new range, but I don't believe it should lead to the end-of-the-world idea that we are running out of oil," said R. Dobie Langenkamp, director of the University of Tulsa College of Law's Energy-Environment Policy Institute. "We still have 40 years of development. The question is production, not reserves."

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