Natural gas, not renewable energy, will supply the major share of incremental global energy requirements between now and 2030, the world's biggest private-sector petroleum company forecasts.
Rob Gardner, the manager of the economics and energy division of the corporate strategic planning department at ExxonMobil said the US oil and chemicals group had identified gas as a "particular area" for future business development.
"We're making big investments in gas," he said at a briefing in Dubai on the company's latest long-term energy outlook, extending to 2030.
The company was expecting to use technology developed to exploit prolific shale-gas deposits in the US to develop similar resources overseas, Mr Gardner said.
According to ExxonMobil's forecast, rapid growth in emerging economies would drive up global energy demand 70 per cent by 2030 from its level in 2005. Fossil fuels - oil, gas and coal - would continue to meet most of the world's energy needs during this period, with gas showing the highest growth in global consumption.
"It is very clear from our energy outlook that the world will require more energy as hundreds of millions of people experience improved living standards and greater access to electricity," Mr Gardner said.
"We will need more of all forms of energy, with increasing supplies of oil and natural gas remaining critical to meet this expanded demand."
Although the supply of wind and solar power, as well as biofuels, was set to increase sharply in the next two decades, their contribution to global energy supplies by 2030 would still be unlikely to constitute more than 20 per cent, Mr Gardner said.
The expanding use of gas and, to a lesser extent, nuclear power, combined with energy efficiency improvements, would be the major developments helping to mitigate carbon emissions and environmental impacts from higher energy consumption. Nevertheless, the most significant policy issue affecting the global energy sector would be climate policy and the pace at which it developed, Mr Gardner predicted.
Electricity demand was poised to rise twice as fast over the forecast period as total energy consumption, ExxonMobil said.
In the Middle East, projected regional power demand would climb by 150 per cent between 2005 and 2030, almost twice the 80 per cent increase expected globally, the company projected.
As in the rest of the world, gas would be the major fuel used for generating additional electricity in the Middle East, even if that meant importing supplies, Mr Gardner predicted.
The region had sufficient gas reserves to satisfy its power requirements in the long term, he said.
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all have large gas reserves which, for various reasons, they have failed to exploit efficiently. Qatar, with the world's third-largest gas reserves after Russia and Iran, has recently emerged as the global leader in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, but has been reluctant to export gas to Gulf neighbours that have traditionally resisted paying international prices for the fuel.
In the transportation sector, which was likely to remain largely dependent on liquid fuels, most of the projected increase in oil demand until 2030 would come from heavy-duty vehicles, while oil consumed by cars and light utility vehicles would flatten out, ExxonMobil predicted.
China would show the fastest growth in vehicle use, with the number of personal vehicles on the road quadrupling by 2030. Gas demand would also grow the fastest in China, but with the increase driven mostly by industrial requirements. By contrast, increased gas consumption in North America and Europe is expected to result mostly from power sector demand.
By 2030, China's per capita energy consumption would be about equal to that in Europe, but still only half of the US level, ExxonMobil predicted.