Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Paris-based Total (NYSE:TOT), is talking about peak oil without precisely using the term, in either French or English. According to de Margerie, whose company ranks third in size in Europe behind Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) and BP (NYSE:BP), worldwide oil supplies may fall short of demand as early as 2014.

That's actually a year later than the International Energy Agency's April prediction that 2013 may be the year in which demand exceeds supply. According to de Margerie, the market is anticipating that shortfall, rather than allowing current supply demand dynamics to set prices. Were the latter to be the case, he believes that crude would be trading below $60 a barrel. Both Total and the IEA are concerned about the amount of oil and gas investment that has been deferred as crude prices have fallen from last year's highs.

In Total's case, second-quarter production was the lowest in nine years, as OPEC cuts and the worldwide recession took their toll. For that reason, the company is taking a number of steps to deal with what it believes lies in its future.

For instance, it's discussing an expansion of its relationship with Petrobras (NYSE:PBR) in Brazil, where it believes its technological expertise can benefit the state-controlled oil company's efforts to produce oil from big discoveries that lie more than 20,000 feet beneath water, sand, rock, and shifting salt. Those conditions will make production difficult and likely drive it back several years.

And aside from the potential of Brazil, Total is already a partner of Petrobras in parts Nigeria, Angola, and Bolivia. At the same time, Total has teamed up with Russia's Gazprom and Norway's StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO) to develop the gas-rich Shtokman field located in the Barents Sea.

On the downstream side, the company, which is Europe's largest refiner, may trim some assets. Refinery sales have been slow, but Total pointed to the 45% stake in its Vlissingen refinery sold to Lukoil, after exercising preemptive rights over shares offered to Valero (NYSE:VLO) by former stakeholder Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW). On the other side of the coin and counter to Europe's oversupply of refining capacity, Total is working on a 400,000-barrels-a-day refinery in Saudi Arabia and looking to expand its presence in China with a possible stake in a second refinery there.

While Total still has some upstream issues to settle, there's enough going on in enough places to make the company well worth your Foolish efforts.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does welcome your comments. Petroleo Brasileiro, StatoilHydro ASA, and Total SA are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.The Fool has a disclosure policy.