Algeria's former energy minister warned Wednesday the ongoing political and social turmoil in the Arab world will have "dramatic" implications for energy markets in coming years.
While the outcome of the Arab revolutions is "by no means certain," it is already evident that "important changes are in progress that are likely to impact energy markets in the long term," Nordine Ait-Laoussine said.
Ait-Laoussine made the comments as he opened a daylong conference of representatives of oil and gas producing countries, including Iraq and Nigeria, and industry executives to discuss changes in the energy sector.
Unrest in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the region has sent shock waves through global oil markets, pushing price of a barrel above $108, the highest price since 2008.
Libya's entire capacity of 1.6 million barrels a day has been shut down since February.
"Western oil company departures, the military intervention and sanctions will severely curtail oil exports" from Libya in the months ahead, said Didier Houssin, director of energy markets at the International Energy Agency.
Events like the Arab revolutions, Japan's earthquake and tsunami, and other rare, so-called "black swan" events seem to be on the rise, said Mark Williams, downstream director at Dutch oil giant Shell.
"The scientist in me says they aren't, but it sure seems like they are," Williams said.
Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, highlighted the uncertainty that these events have raised for world oil markets.
"We don't know yet about the long term consequences of the instability in the Middle East, about the catastrophe in Japan, about the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. That can affect future projections for oil demand," al-Shahristani said.
Finding ways to minimize disruption from rising and volatile oil prices is a priority for France's leadership of this year's G-20 group of industrialized nations, industry minister Eric Besson said.
"The answers to the quick increase of oil prices will be collective," Besson said. "Consumers countries, producers countries and oil companies must work together."
Price volatility "makes the signals more difficult for consumers and investors to read," Shell's Williams said. He said improved market transparency and an improved balance between supply and demand, partly achievable through greater investment in new energy sources such as biomass, will help stabilize the price trend.
Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie took a reassuring tone, saying "for now there is nothing to be worried about, even if the price is high."
His firm is investing $5 billion by 2020 to develop new energy sources, mainly solar power and biomass, De Margerie said.
De Margerie also said Total is ready to restart operations in Libya "as soon as we can."
He said Total was ready to begin buying Libyan crude immediately, "if it is respecting laws and respecting the embargo."
In a step toward getting more money for weapons and other needs, a tanker arrived Tuesday near the eastern city of Tobruk to load up Libyan rebels' first shipment of oil for export in nearly three weeks.
The tanker can carry 1 million barrels of oil, less than the 1.6 million barrels Libya produced every day on average before the crisis. Analysts viewed the delivery as a symbolic step forward for a country that had been 17th among the world's oil producers.
Associated Press business writer Greg Keller contributed to this report.