Category Archives: Iran sanctions

Putin’s OPEC tactics: Iran sanctions and the Saudis [IBD cites me]

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June 2018 OPEC meeting’s key players (AP)

Last week, Gillian Rich at Investor’s Business Daily (Washington), asked me (Berlin) and others about the OPEC’s 20-21 June meeting. Below here, I give my views in more detail, including the tie-in to the Trump project to isolate Iran and my comment about Putin likely betraying the Iranians again.  The IBD piece is here: Trump Could Make OPEC’s Next Meeting As Dysfunctional As G-7 Summit. 15 June ’18.

We spoke about market and geopolitical aspects. On the latter, I emphasized both the Trump Administration’s evolving plan to sanction and isolate Iran, and Russia’s new role as a central player with OPEC ever since the 2016 joint Russian-OPEC decision to raise production.

That’s when Putin played a new role for any Russian leader. Not only did he coordinate Russian oil policy with OPEC’s, he got personally involved in heated discussions, getting on the phone late in the last night with Iranian and Saudi leaders to get the deal sealed.

This new Russian role was clearly foreseen by al-Naimi, Saudi oil minister from 2014, before al-Falih replaced him as minister, to serve the new king, Salman, and his son Prince MbS.

In 2014, as prices were crashing, al-Naimi said that there was no way  nowadays that OPEC alone could cut sufficient production to reverse this. Indeed, he met with Russia and Mexico, at the insistence of Venezuela, before the late-2014 OPEC summit to see what these two  non-OPEC states were willing to do to help out.  At that time, the Russians (much less the Mexicans) were still unwilling to join with OPEC. So, instead of implementing cuts, al-Naimi led OPEC to increase production, declaring a (ultimately unsuccessful) price war against US shale producers, whose new cheap oil had been driving down prices.

Finally, in 2016, after almost two years of crushingly low prices, Russia was finally willing to come onboard late in the year, joining in the first-ever coordinated OPEC-Russian production cuts, and in the process Putin (and Rosneft’s Igor Sechin) personally played an essential role inside OPEC by cajoling the Iranians to go along with the Saudi-Russian plan – as per the aforementioned late-night phone  calls.

So, here we are another two years later, in mid-2018:  the Russia-Saudi, or OPEC/NOPEC combo has finally gotten the previous global oil glut and low-prices somewhat under control.  Aided by growing global demand for oil, their cuts have gotten storage in the USA and elsewhere down, and they have gotten lucky as long as US shale producers face temporary limits on getting their rapidly growing production to market for a lack of pipeline capacity to USA ports.

Now that they’ve begun to get some leverage over prices, Russia and the Saudis want to reign in prices from overheating.  At the same time, they have to make up for the death spiral in production caused by the Chavez- and Maduro-led collapse of the Venezuelan oil industry, and an expected decline in Iranian exports due to the Trump administration’s campaign to impose the “strongest sanctions in history” (Sec. of State Pompeo).    Continue reading

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An Oil-Price War´s Surprise Ending -My BPJ article on OPEC, Shale, Trump, Market & Geopolitics

bpj-oil-price-war-end-29nov16Here`s my latest at Berlin Policy Journal:  about  OPEC`s 30 Novermber meeting, US shale and the geopolitics from the  Trump Administration towards Iran and the Saudis. – Tom O`D.

An Oil-Price War’s Surprise Ending

No one expected shale producers to survive extended low oil prices.
, NOVEMBER 29, 2016 
The oil market’s oversupply – and the low prices that followed – was supposed to drive shale producers out of business. Instead, the economies of several large national producers have been upended, and the next act could prove even more destabilizing.

OPEC’s 171st meeting in Vienna on November 30 reflects the new paradigm of the global oil market. After two years, the Saudi-led price war to drive American shale and other “high cost” producers from the market has ended. However, to the surprise of many – not least the Saudis – shale has survived. What now?

The United States Energy Information Agency (EIA) expects persistent market oversupply to have been quenched by the second half of 2017. The Saudis view the diminishing oversupply as an opportunity to cut production by 600,000 or more barrels per day – although about twice this amount would be optimal – boosting prices from under $50 per barrel to $60 or more. The Saudis have worked intensely to reach an agreement at the OPEC summit to coordinate this production cut with Russia; any failure to achieve this highly anticipated deal would sink market confidence, pushing prices into the $30s.

The key obstacle to the Saudi plan is that Iran has refused to participate in any cut, insisting it should first be allowed to re-establish production it lost under years of sanctions. In response, the Saudis have threatened to boost their own production, punishing Iran by collapsing prices and by denying them market share. The Financial Times’ Nick Butler correctly characterizes this as “playing with fire,” and not only because of the severe pain this would impose on weaker OPEC states, but also for the geopolitical retaliation it might provoke from the new US administration as the Saudis would also bankrupt numerous shale producers in the US.

However, even if Russia, Iran, and the rest of OPEC agree to the Saudis’ cuts, US shale is widely expected to expand into the void, re-depressing prices by later next year. In all these scenarios, the future remains extremely difficult for OPEC, for Russia, and for other oil-dependent states.

A Price War Backfires

The prolonged high price of oil, starting to rise in 2002 and then dipping during the financial crisis before rising again till mid-2014, encouraged the emergence of new unconventional shale production. Driven by technical innovations in hydraulic fracturing plus abundant venture capital, by 2014 the US had added more new oil to the global market than what was lost in the Arab Spring and subsequent wars in Libya, Iraq, and Syria. By mid-2014, some two million excess barrels-per-day (bpd) were flowing into storage, and the price collapsed. Continue reading

“Energy independence” won’t free the USA from global oil market & geopolitics [I’m cited: CNNMoney]

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Credit: CNNMoney, 9 August 2016

Mr. Trump promises he’d use the USA’s shale-oil revolution to deliver “complete” independence from foreign oil, telling voters in May: “Imagine a world in which our foes and the oil cartels (sic) can no longer use energy as a weapon. Wouldn’t that be nice?” But, he is confusing two quite distinct things:

“Energy independence” – in the sense of the USA producing more oil than the country consumes – is indeed possible, even “tantalizingly close” as this CNNMoney article (Aug. 9, 2016, by Matt Egan) makes clear, citing myself and other experts.  For clarity, I’ll call this “net oil-exporter status.”

However, Donald Trump asks us to “imagine” he can use this net oil exporter status, to make the US independent of the global oil market and oil in geopolitics where our “foes” and “cartels” have leverage. Continue reading

What’s keeping foreign oil firms out of Iran? IRG? [CNNMoney quotes me]

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To put Iran’s recent production increases in perspective: On its own, for 37 years, Iran has struggled to produce two-thirds of its pre-revolutionary level of 6 million barrels/day. Now, domestic opposition is again limiting foreign oil companies’ participation to boost production.

Since the Obama-administration’s and Europe’s nuclear sanctions were lifted early this year (marked ‘e’ on the chart), Iran has been expanding its production and exports more rapidly than most experts had expected. Tehran has actually tripled exports since late-2015 (see point ‘f’).  But, here’s the big question: Can Iran sustain this years’ production gains?
If to, this could seriously undermine Saudi Arabia’s global oil-market share, and boost Iran’s sanctions-damaged economy to a long-awaited recovery.
The short answer: Now that foreign sanctions are finally lifted, the battle to boost Iran’s oil exports has shifted to a domestic clash over whether to allow foreign oil companies to have significant upstream involvement. This is a domestic Iranian issue with a long history.
Historical perspective
Let’s start with some historical perspective: The Iranian National Oil Company (NIOC) can only do so much on its own to boost production. After decades of sanctions, it lacks the needed technology and finance.  I told CNNMoney‘s Matt Egan, on Wednesday, that the faster Iran expands on its own, the faster production will plateau. (His CNNMoney article today quotes me .).
This was what happened after the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.(‘b’ on the chart). By about 1992, production had plateaued at almost 4 million barrels/day, under 2/3 of the pre-revolutionary, late-1970’s level of roughly 6 million barrels per day. (‘a’ on chart).  The Iranian president at the time, Rafsanjani, argued to religious conservative and nationalist members of the Majilis that only foreign oil companies’ technology and investments could expand production further. However, he only won grudging approval for an offshore project due to fears that foreigners would bring their irreligious ways ashore and/or undermine the hard-won nationalization of Iran’s oil sector.
Continue reading
Aside

Last night Investor’s Business Daily NEWS’ Gillin Rich interviewed me. The title reflects some rumors, but my point of view, as she reports, emphasizes market realities that bode against any output limit – esp. if the Iranians are still intransigent … and … Continue reading

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The EU-US “Oil Weapon”: Putin’s overtures to OPEC, China & Iran reveal desperation

Foto: Presidents Rouhani of Iran and Putin of Russia holding discussions Presidents Rouhani of Iran and Putin of Russia holding discussions

(AICGS Analysis, by Tom O’Donnell)  Since Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, decided to annex Crimea and back east Ukrainian separatists with troops, many have worried he might use his “energy weapon” to counter U.S.-EU sanctions, as Russia supplies around a third of the EU’s natural gas imports.  But what about Russian retaliation in the oil sector?

That’s hard to imagine. While gas is marketed in bi-lateral, pipeline-mediated relationships, oil is not. It’s liquid, fungible, and marketed in a unified open market—“the global barrel” [and name of this blog, T.O’D.]—which means there are no bi-lateral oil dependencies.

So, when EU leaders were cajoled by Germany’s Angela Merkel into joining the United States in applying sanctions, Russia could do little to retaliate from within the oil sector.  In reality, it is the EU and the U.S., not Russia, that have an “oil weapon” in hand.  And, the flurry of Russian oil diplomacy with OPEC, Iran and China over the past couple of weeks has a distinct whiff of desperation to it. Continue reading

The P5+1–Iran Deal: Obama’s Initial Challenge was to Rally EU-3 Allies to the Cause

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EU Foreign Affairs Representative. Federica Mogherini, and Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, announce the P5+1 deal with Iran. 3 April 2015

On April 3, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, together with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced a framework agreement significantly limiting Iran’s future nuclear program.

Clearly, this deal was only possible with the patient collaboration of the British, French, German, and EU foreign ministers and U.S. secretaries of state. However, this common front was only forged through a multiple-step process orchestrated by Mr. Obama, beginning when he took office.  Continue reading