India's oil demand growth is set to overtake China by mid-2020s, priming the country for more refinery investment but making it more vulnerable to supply disruption in West Asia, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday.

India's oil demand is expected to reach 6 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2024 from 4.4 million bpd in 2017, but its domestic production is expected to rise only marginally, making the country more reliant on crude imports and more vulnerable to supply disruption in West Asia, the agency said.

“We see India definitely as a key driver for oil demand growth,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol told Reuters, but added that the country's oil demand growth may slow down slightly, in line with slowing global economic growth.

China’s demand is likely to be slightly lower than that of India by the mid-2020s, as per IEA’s China estimates given in November, but the gap would slowly become bigger thereafter. “Indian economy is and will become even more exposed to risks of supply disruptions, geopolitical uncertainties and the volatility of oil prices,” the IEA said in a report on India's energy policies.

Brent crude prices topped $70 a barrel on rising geopolitical tensions in West Asia, putting pressure on emerging markets such as India. Like the rest of Asia, India is highly dependent on oil supplies from West Asia, with Iraq being its largest crude supplier.

Also read:Crude spike: Government may need to set aside more for LPG, kerosene subsidy

India, which ranks No. 3 in terms of global oil consumption after China and the United States, ships in over 80 per cent of its oil needs, of which 65 per cent is from West Asia through the Strait of Hormuz, the IEA said.

The IEA, which coordinates release of strategic petroleum reserves (SPR) among developed countries in times of emergency, said it is important for India to expand its reserves.

Refinery investments

India is the world's fourth largest oil refiner and a net exporter of refined fuel, mainly petrol and diesel. The nation has drawn plans to lift its refining capacity to about 8 million bpd by 2025 from the current about 5 million bpd.

The IEA, however, forecasts India's refining capacity to rise to 5.7 million bpd by 2024. This would make “India a very attractive market for refinery investment,” IEA said.

Drawn to India's higher fuel demand potential, global oil majors like Saudi Aramco, BP, Abu Dhabi National Oil Co and Total are looking at investing in India's oil sector. Saudi Aramco and ADNOC aim to own a 50 per cent stake in a planned 1.2-million bpd refinery in Maharashtra, for which land is yet to be acquired.