Category Archives: Venezuela oil

Decoding the Oil Price War 1: Moscow seized COVID crisis to hit US shale, force sanctions relief

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The “Oil Price War of 2020” was launched at the worst possible time.  The COVID-19 pandemic was spreading to the world beyond China, promising to kill tens-of-thousands, and bring a global economic collapse.

However, this war was not preordained. Things could have gone otherwise from the start.  It was a decision, a sort of Pearl-Harbor-esque surprise attack, announced by Russian minister of energy, Alexander Novak, upon his arriving late to the OPEC-plus summit hall in Vienna on March 6.

If Moscow now abandons its all-out war on US shale, it will be because Putin has miscalculated.  He was willing to increase the pain for everyone else by exploiting the COVID-19 energy crisis in a half-baked attempt to get out from under the US sanctions.  However, the unanticipated repercussions might get too hot for Moscow.

The facts about why Putin decided to launch this oil price war are important to decode.  A key aspect to understand is that Moscow’s game plan was to blame the Saudis; and it soon began a disinformation campaign saying the Saudis launched the war.

We shall see, below and in future posts, how this blame-shifting is a stratagem designed to manipulate a section of US politicians and especially independent US oil producers, who traditionally hold strong, anti-Saudi sentiments (to be clear: they have good reasons to hold these anti-Saudi views), to preferentially sympathize with Russia against the Saudis and to lobby Trump and Congress to give Moscow relief from US sanctions.

Whether this Oil War strategy of Moscow can, at least in part, succeed in freeing Russia from US sanctions is not clear.  But, Moscow’s is highly motivated to succeed due to the significant constraints these sanctions are imposing on Russia.  They include sanctions in retaliation for its war against Ukraine, since 2014, which have undermined expansion of Russia’s domestic oil and gas sector; sanctions which have stalled Russian-German plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; and sanctions on Rosneft’s efforts to sustain the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela.

Today, as explained below, I would say the odds are against Moscow’s success, with the plan bordering on adventurism.  The Saudi’s initial response, in so far as it specifically targets Russia’s oil business, is rational; however, by de facto joining the Russian oil price war on US shale,  the Saudis will also provoke a backlash from powerful US oil-business and political interests, which is likely precisely what Putin and Igor Sechin hoped to bait the Saudis’ Prince MbS into doing.

Considering the pain the world is already suffering, Putin and Sechin’s callous game to exploit the COVID-19 oil-market crisis must be seen for what it is.  Most especially, one should not acquiesce to Moscow’s disinformation campaign to shift the blame elsewhere.

In Vienna: Who started the price war?

For weeks, Riyadh had aggressively lobbied the 10 OPEC and 11 non-OPEC members of the OPEC-plus alliance to agree to a major production cut.  This alliance had been born in 2016, of a newfound, market-dictated, yet grudging, Russian-Saudi mutual recognition of the reality that only such a large-scale collective effort could begin to get control of a market in long-term oversupply.  By December 2019, their OPEC-plus group had Continue reading

Venezuelan transition? My analysis on Germany’s DW TV | Videos: español & English

venezuela_protest_dw.de_31jan19

Here are two videos from the Quadriga show on Germany’s international network DW.de —  Aquí hay dos vídeos del programa Cuadriga de la red internacional alemana DW.de

Espanol, 28 febrero 2019:  https://p.dw.com/p/3EHYo  (… luego desplácese hasta el video)

English 31 January 2019 : https://p.dw.com/p/3CVxR (… then scroll down to the video)

Continue reading

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

dc-Cover-p9fbkcs8ccuhvnnnubuhqc2fn7-20161201210531.Medi

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. Continue reading

My CNNMoney quote & 3 points: OPEC v shale, Russia’s new role & Trump-buddy Hamm is pro Saudi price band

 

160928163540-opec-algeria-384x216I was interviewed by Matt Egan of CNNMoney. Three points, if I may:

  1. This story echoes my message in Berlin Policy Journal earlier this week and my RTRadio interview: OPEC now has to live with a new oil-market paradigm where shale  won’t disappear (for now its in the US, but soon elsewhere too).  It is a technology more akin to manufacturing than traditional oil extraction and so more amenable to technological and operating innovation in a low-price regime (or in a price war such as the Saudis et al have just given up on waging against it). And, being much smaller-in-scale means it can ramp up at much lower initial costs and more rapidly than traditional oil fields. The CNNMoney story is below here, or here’s the CNN ink .
  2. Another totally new phenomena seen in this OPEC deal was that a Russian leader was deeply involved in the tense OPEC negotiations, specifically between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia has never done this before. Historically, it has also never carried through on previous promises to support an OPEC cut, instead free-riding on higher prices effected by OPEC/Saudi cuts.  In this case, Putin was instrumental in getting the Saudi’s to agree, as they always have before, to swallow most of the cuts. But, Putin has agreed to cut too (in ambiguous language, but repeatedly). We shall now see if he and Igor Sechin (CEO of Rosneft, that produces 40% of Russian oil, and who is, by the way, a great friend of Venezuela’s miserably failing chavista leadership, where his company is now the biggest foreign oil producer) … do as they have promised OPEC and the Saudis. If they do not, the fallout with Saudis and their allies will be significant.
  3. Now, also, we shall see how US shale responds. Of course, IEA head, Fatih Birol, has understandably predicted that US shale and other producers, will likely hike production if oil reaches $60/barrel and simply eat up the present OPEC cuts in about nine months or so. (Aside: of course, the present output cuts, even if they ‘fail’ in the long run to sustain higher prices, would still have had been a significant cash-boosting relief to all OPEC states and to Russia while they lasted.)  However, take a look at the Bloomberg video link at the end of my Berlin Policy Journal piece – an interview with Howard Hamm, Trump’s billionaire fracking close-ally (who has just turned down an offer to run the Department of Energy). He had told Bloomberg he expects OPEC to make a deal because “it makes sense” and, further, that he expects/hopes his US fracking colleagues will show ‘discipline’ after the price rise, i.e., not expanding too fast so as to keep prices up.  An interesting, de facto recognition that price wars, in the end (in the long run), do not benefit either side, and goes on to approvingly say that the Saudi’s want to once again maintain prices “in a band” as they used to do. It is clear from Hamm that this would all be very welcomed from the US side. (Note, Hamm’s Continental Energy company made $3 billion in just three hours after the OPEC deal boosted prices! ) Indeed, in light of such everlasting market realities, it is difficult to imagine Trump’s attitude to the Saudi’s will be much different than other US president’s over the years. Which has geopolitical implications for Iran, of course, as the Saudi-Iranian geopolitical competition for regional influence and their parallel oil-market competition both continue to heat up.

Here’s the CNNMoney piece by M. Egan of 1 December 2016 (with my quote highlighted): Continue reading

Saudi & Russia seek oil deal as OPEC fight v US shale fails [My RTRadio Interview]

economonitor-com-putin_and_prince_g20_sept16

RT Radio-Edinburgh’s Jack Foster interviewed me on the upcoming 30 November OPEC summit where the Saudis hope to set a cap on OPEC and Russian production. Here’s the interview:   Listen from time-stamp 9:00-to-17:30 (Streaming MP3) 

This would  mark the first-ever Russian cooperation with OPEC. However, market realities look bleak for OPEC and Russia whether they reach an agreement or not. The reason is the unprecedented continuing challenge from US shale, which has dramatically cut its costs via tech and operational innovations to stay profitable at low prices. Continue reading

Bolivarian Venezuela in crisis: An oil-rich nation collapses? Berlin, 10 October

8oz7x3svenezuela_food_line

Bolivarian Venezuela in crisis: An oil-rich nation collapses? – Panel Discussion (bios follow):

  • Ms. Rita Bitar Deeb  PhD student in Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of Freie Universität Berlin
  • Dr. Ivo Hernandez  Lecturer in International Relations at the Political Science Institute of Universität Münster
  • Dr. Manuel Silva-Ferrer  John Boulton Foundation Fellow and Lecturer at the Latin-American Institute of Freie Universität Berlin
  • Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell -Moderator  Guest Lecturer at Hertie School of Governance and the European Studies Program, FU/BEST at Freie Universität Berlin

WHEN: 10 October, 6-7:30 pm. LOCATION:  Hertie School of Governance,  Friedrichstrasse 180 – 10117 Berlin, Germany.  [To attend, please register online.] – Venezuela is currently unable to adequately feed its people, or to provide basic services such as medical care, education, and electricity. Polls indicate about 90% of the population would vote to remove its Chavista president, Nicolas Maduro, if his government allowed a recall referenda to take place this year, which is widely demanded. What will happen in Venezuela: Collapse? Chaos? Democratic renewal?  And, moreover, why is this occurring now?

Since the mid-20th Century, fueled by oil riches, Venezuela has veered from being the leading example of ‘democratic development’ within a continent rife with right-wing dictatorships, to a nation mired in its own economic and political crises. A ‘neo-liberal shock’ in the late-1980’s failed and was roundly rejected by citizens. At the end of the 1990‘s, Hugo Chavez broadly excited the hopes for development of not only Venezuelans but elicited significant sympathy worldwide with Chavismo’s ‘new resource nationalism’ and ’21st Century Bolivarian Socialism’. However, this leftward turn is also demonstrably failing, with the nation again on the brink of disaster. What comes next? Our panel of Venezuelan experts weighs in and will address attendees’ questions.


Rita Bitar Deeb is a PhD student in Political Science at the Otto-Suhr-Institut of the Freie Universität Berlin. She received her Master in Public Policy and Management from the University of Pittsburgh and Graduate Certificate in Latin American Studies. Her research interests are democratization process, social development and gender policy. She has worked for the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and several local NGOs as project coordinator in Venezuela (Atenea, Súmate, Red de Apoyo-HHRR). Bitar has taught at the University of Kassel in Germany, and at the Catholic University in Caracas.


Ivo Hernandez is lecturer in International Relations at the Political Science Institute of Universität Münster.  He studied at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas, the London School of Economics (LSE), the University of Heidelberg and University of Tübingen in Germany and The National Defense University in Washington D.C. His research interests include oil politics, national oil companies, the logics of terrorism, and Latin American politics and political economy.


Manuel Silva-Ferrer is John Boulton Foundation Fellow – exploring oil, society and culture in 20th-Century Latin America – as well as Lecturer at the Latin-American Institute of Freie Universität Berlin.  Born in Caracas, he is a graduate of the Institute of Communication Studies at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) and earned his PhD from Freie Universität Berlin.  He was Director of the state film foundation Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela and Head of Cinema and Media at the Ministry of Culture where his work included developing the National Academy of Film and Audiovisual.  Silva-Ferrer led ExtraCámara, a magazine for Latin-American photography, and was co-responsible for the creation of the Centro Nacional de la Fotografía, a public foundation for the promotion of photographic art. During his studies, Silva-Ferrer was Fellow of the Fundación Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho, and awarded a PhD full scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).


Moderation & comments:

Thomas W. O’Donnell is Guest Lecturer at Hertie School of Governance and the European Studies Program (FU/BEST) at Freie Universität Berlin.  An academic, analyst and consultant in the global energy system and international relations, his work has encompassed especially the role of oil and gas in the EU, Russia, Latin America, Middle East, China and the USA.  His PhD is from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in experimental nuclear physics, and he previously studied Political Science and China Studies at the State University of New York and Canisius College.  In 2008-09, he was US Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at the Center for the Study of Development (CENDES) at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and in 2015 AICGS (American Institute of Contemporary German Studies) & DAAD Fellow in Washington D.C. O’Donnell has taught post-graduate seminars on energy in international relations and development at The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, The New School University’s JJ Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs (NYC),and Freie Universität, JFK Institute (Berlin). He is Senior Analyst at Wikistrat and consults with other geopolitical and business-intelligence firms. Before his PhD, O’Donnell gained broad tech experience in U.S. automobile-manufacturing, railway-operations and power-generation industries.  He is author of some 40 peer-reviewed scientific physics papers.


If you wish to attend, please register online.

New US tech squeezing oilfields & rivals [IBD quotes me]

U.S. oil companies are developing new technologies and techniques to produce oil cheaper and faster.Gillian Rich at Investors’ Business Daily News (17 June 2016) writes a quite informative survey of the many new technological methods pushing the cost of US shale production ever downward. Here’s Gillian’s article. She asked me about the impact on OPEC producers and my central point (my quotes are below) was that it will be the high-tech, most-efficient producers (such as US shale) and NOT necessarily those with the largest and easiest-to-access proven reserves (e.g., countries such as Venezuela and much of OPEC, many corrupt Russian and Chinese state-dominated firms, etc.)  that will set the pace in the new oil order

If the latter actors can’t find ways to innovate in technology and operational methods they will be at a disadvantage because shale production looks more like manufacturing than  traditional oil extraction.  Many OPEC and other state-owned firms never had to think like a combination of Henry Ford and Silicon Valley, but could instead count on huge, low-cost reserves, inefficient exploration and production and cheap local labor.

Eventually, the new shale methods will of course spread to promising shale fields in Argentina, China, Eastern/Central Europe and elsewhere; but this will require big advances in local infrastructure, training and government regulatory capacity. Again, things those countries must think about very seriously. Here are my quotes (from near the end of her long article).

New Oil Order

…. OPEC countries like Nigeria and Venezuela that haven’t invested in newer technology will be hurt by advances in the U.S., said Thomas O’Donnell, a senior energy analyst at the consulting firm Wikistrat. Russia also can’t exploit shale and Arctic assets because of economic sanctions that limit Westerners from helping develop the new fields.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has low-cost production fields, and state-run oil company Saudi Aramco can bring in foreign experts knowledgeable about fracking and new technologies, he added.

Still, OPEC must now grapple with U.S. shale producers on the rebound, which could lead to volatility, O’Donnell said. “The oil order has changed. It’s conventional oil on one side, and new shale oil on the other.”

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

iran_oil_production-sanctioneffect_17jun16

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

Rate this:

Latin American Oil: Beijing Still Lending, But for How Long? – I’m quoted by Energy Compass

energy_intelligence_tom_od2_13may16

Last week, Energy Intelligence (EI) quoted me on China’s continued appetite for oil and gas investments in Latin America even with its own  economic slowdown and LatAm’s many political upheavals. (Sincere thanks to EI for a PDF of their proprietary Energy Compass to share on my blog. You can access it below here.)

Some thoughts on China’s strategy: In the case of Venezuela, as the price of oil fell, Beijing quickly eased up on PDVSA’s repayment terms for its huge outstanding loans which are repayable in oil. This shows some willingness to help Venezuela cope with the falling market value of oil. Why? Because, mainly, it is the oil that China has always been laser-focused on – not making interest on these loans.

Generally, it is clear that new Chinese investments or loans are still possible in Latin America. In Venezuela however, Continue reading