Oil Security

Ensuring energy security has been at the centre of the IEA mission since its inception, following the oil crises of the early 1970s. World energy markets continue to be vulnerable to disruptions precipitated by events ranging from geo-political strife to natural disasters. As oil demand and imports continue to grow, the IEA emergency response capability will remain essential.

Oil stocks table

View the latest table of IEA member countries' oil stocks (in days of net imports) here >

How does the IEA respond to energy security emergencies? 

In the event of an actual or potentially severe oil supply disruption, the IEA Secretariat first assesses its market impact and the need for an IEA co-ordinated response. The assessment includes an estimate of the market’s net loss of oil, taking into account any spare production capacity that can be quickly brought online following an exchange of information with producers, producing countries’ governments and international organisations.

This assessment is the basis on which the IEA Executive Director then consults with and provides advice to the IEA Governing Board. In the past, this consultation process to determine the need for IEA co-ordinated action and subsequent recommendation has been accomplished within 24 hours.

Once the need for co-ordinated action has been agreed, member countries participate according to national circumstances. Each member country’s share of the total response is generally proportionate to its share of total IEA oil consumption.

Throughout the decision-making and implementation process, IEA stakeholders benefit from the input and advice of industry experts through the IEA Industry Advisory Board (IAB, established in 1975). In order to fulfil its role, the IAB participates regularly in IEA meetings on oil supply security. The IAB membership is drawn from the major oil companies with headquarters in IEA countries.

For more information see: FAQs on Responding to major supply disruptions

IEA Emergency Response System

Energy Security Response

The objective of an IEA collective action

The primary purpose of an IEA collective action is to mitigate the economic damage associated with a disruption of oil supply. By temporarily replacing disrupted supplies, the action is intended to help oil markets re-establish the supply/demand balance at a lower price level than would otherwise have been the case.

Managing oil prices is not the purpose of an IEA collective action, however, as high prices can have underlying causes which temporary emergency measures cannot address. Moreover, attempting to manage prices with emergency measures risks masking important market signals, such as the need to invest in supply infrastructure or more fuel-efficient technologies, which are essential to assuring supply security in the future.

At the time the IEA was created, policy makers were primarily concerned with the physical unavailability of oil supplies and sought to define a threshold for activating an emergency response based on a specified volume of disrupted oil supply. Oil markets have changed enormously since the first oil shock of 1973-74. As a result of the liberalisation of the oil industry and the development of spot and futures markets, changes in supply and demand are quickly reflected in the international market prices of crude oil and refined products. Increases in spot prices quickly feed through into higher retail prices and the very notion of a "supply shortfall" is misplaced: a reduction of supply would cause prices to rise immediately while higher prices would lead to lower demand and bring the market back into balance. However, this rebalancing might require prices to increase substantially in response to a relatively small fall in supply, given the high concentration of oil use in the transportation sector where few short-term alternative options exist.

In the absence of price controls that might cause physical shortages, a sudden fall in global oil supply can cause economic damage through sudden price increases. The purpose of an IEA collective action is to limit the extent and impact of a sudden fall in global oil supply caused by a disruption. In such instances, IEA countries would want to replace lost supplies on a temporary basis in order to prevent economic damage, but they would still allow the market to set the price. Such a move is best described as an effort to stabilise the market rather than to manage prices.

Stockholding Structure

Industry stocks

Stocks held by industry, whether for commercial purposes or in order to comply with national stockholding rules, count towards meeting a country’s IEA stockholding commitment. Most member governments require certain companies, such as importers, refiners, product suppliers or wholesalers, to hold a minimum number of days of stocks. Generally, the required amount is set in proportion to the company’s oil import share or its share of sales in the domestic market. These obligated industry stocks are included in the overall industry stock levels reported for a country. IEA data on industry oil stocks, unless otherwise noted, are defined as all primary stocks on national territory, including stocks held by industry to comply with national emergency stockholding rules.

As of 2013, 20 of the 29 current IEA member countries opted to meet all or part of their obligation by placing a stockholding requirement on industry. Of those 20 countries imposing minimum stockholding obligations on industry, six use this approach to meet the totality of their IEA obligation. They are Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom. As a net exporter, Norway has no IEA stockholding obligation; however it places an obligation on companies that produce or import petroleum products in Norway to store product stocks corresponding to 20 days of normal consumption, which would then be used for emergencies. The following countries do not place such an obligation on industry: Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia (which became a member in 2014), Germany, Hungary, New Zealand, the Slovak Republic and the United States. Although these countries place no formal obligation on industry, their industry commercial stocks count towards the IEA obligation of 90 days of net imports.

Government stocks

Government-owned stocks are one of the means by which countries can ensure their IEA minimum stockholding requirement. These are typically financed through the central government budget and held exclusively for emergency purposes. In 2013, eight countries held government stocks: the Czech Republic, Ireland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Poland and the United States.

Agency stocks

Some countries have a stockholding arrangement that involves establishing a separate agency endowed with the responsibility of holding all or part of the stock obligation. The agency structure and arrangements vary from country to country but in all cases are clearly defined by state legislation. Several countries have government-administered schemes (e.g. Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain). Others are industry-led and/or industry-owned entities (e.g. Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and the Slovak Republic).

Oil stocks table

View the latest table of IEA member countries' oil stocks (in days of net imports) here >

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