I was interviewed (from Berlin) by Asharq (Bloomberg affiliate, Dubai) along with Jordanian oil and energy expert, Dr. Amer Al-Shobaki (from Amman) about OPEC leaders’ assertions that oil investment is urgently needed to meet an expected demand rebound, especially in Asia, in Q3-Q4 2023.
Investments have been precariously low for a long time, throughout COVID and even after 24 February 2022, with Russia’s full-on aggression against Ukraine. Now, OPEC warns later-2023 can bring big price spikes and deep economic problems.
I should note, this demand-and-price boost would be a boon to Russian oil prospects, complicating Ukrainian’s allies’ attempts to reduce Russian profits and limit the resale of Russian oil refined in India into the EU market. The G7/EU adoption of the USA-proposed price caps on Russian exports (enforced via constraints on oil-shipping insurance and banks financing of sales) instead of an “old fashioned” sanctions regime (such as specifically restricting Russian oil sales step-by-step via direct and secondary sanctions) has finally begun to significantly restrict the normally expected flow of oil-export-sales cash back into Moscow’s coffers, after a 2022 of high oil prices and big Russian profits.
On air, I referred to a report by Marianna Pàrrage, at Reuters, whose research has found that from January to April 2023, 1.69 million barrels per day (mbd), and 1.89 in May, went to India, now accounting for about 40% of India’s total. This has displaced India’s former Venezuelan, Middle East, African and USA suppliers.
Interestingly, Moscow has sold its oil, banned in the EU, USA and UK, in a very focused manner to India, China and Turkey, not Asia broadly, which could have market advantages for Moscow.
Published Aug 22, 2022 – Dr. Tom O’Donnell, GlobalBarrel.com
In our Asharq interview on 21 August, a Jordanian expert and I discussed Middle East and North African (MENA) states’ food shortages, inflation, and the risk of recession and political unrest as a consequence of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
I especially commented on the troubled domestic policy responses in Egypt (and also in Turkey, which is not a “MENA” state; but deeply involved in Libya, Syria, and etc.).
Beyond the region’s domestic monetary and social policies, I stressed that in external policy, the region should collectively condemn Russia for its Ukrainian war, holding Moscow responsible for driving these crises in MENA. (Unfortunately, there was no time for me to elaborate on this latter point. Hence, I will write more in it, further below here.)
I was also asked to compare the present situation to that which led to the Arab Spring uprisings of 2010-11. (During that period, I taught a post-graduate seminar at The New School, NYC, and spoke at public events on the uprisings). Many of the same precursors exist now as then; however, at what point might this lead to protests or uprisings is not possible to say.
The further reality is that any successes by the EU and other developed states in acquiring scarce food, minerals and energy equates to more difficulty for developing states – especially Pakistan, Bangladesh, Africa and poorer states of the MENA Region – to acquire these necessities.
We both noted, however, that, at the same time, the oil-exporting and LNG-producing states of MENA are now enjoying a revenue windfall, and it is of course their responsibility along with the developed world to aid their poorer neighbors during this crisis.
Note too, that the OPEC states of MENA have reportedly earned a windfall of $1.3 trillion so far this year from high oil and gas prices.
Given the global competition for expensive and temporarily scarce food and energy commodities, poorer MENA states have little recourse. Lebanon, in particular, is in dire circumstances – much of which is the responsibility of corrupt internal political elites and Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
The IMF of course is playing a crucial role now in assisting MENA states.
(I note that the USA this week, according to the UN, purchased 150,000 metric tons of grain from Ukraine to distribute to developing states.)
Meanwhile, Russia is continuing to steal and/or destroy large quantities of Ukrainian grain which would otherwise be exported to MENA states.
My first answer in the interview was rather generic; about the World Bank’s recent report on the Region,
Later, elaborating on the attempt of the region’s central banks to fight inflation with higher interest rates, and the risks of recession this is unavoidably causing, I emphasized that Turkey, at the direction of President Erdogan, is following a highly unorthodox policy (read: monetarily incorrect, and rather corrupt) of lowering interest rates to address inflation. This counter-intuitive decision is known to be a pet theory of the Turkish president. I explained how this dangerous policy caused a spurt of inflation during the latter part of 2021, the first time the central bank implemented lower rates to “fight inflation.” It was widely assumed that would be the end of this experiment. Nevertheless, the Turkish central bank once again cut rates earlier this week. And, again, Turkish lira inflation has begun to soar. This is clearly unsustainable.
I pointed out this policy is exacerbating the crisis for Turkish business and for the Turkish people who are increasingly unable to afford food and other necessities when they are actually available. Further, the central bank is running out of foreign exchange to support the lira.
So too, I discussed the crisis in Egypt, the most populous MENA Arab state. 80% of its flour imports, as I understand (FT), are normally imported from Ukraine and Russia, explaining why the Egyptian wheat crisis is particularly severe. Its central bank head resigned just this week, reflecting the depth of its financial and monetary crisis.
Russia’s contradictory propaganda, and MENA’s response
One point I very much wanted to elaborate, but lacked the time, was the rediculous situation where, in many developing states there are significant sections of the political and business elites who believe – or decided to ‘believe’ – that Moscow”s claim it is fighing in Ukraine to defeat “nazis” and to “preempt” supposed Ukranian and/or NATO plans to atttack Russia. In tandem with this false propaganda, Putin, Lavrov and other Russian leaders are actively offering to aid them with wheat and other aid.
This is all rather absurd in that it is Russia which is exacerbating the global post-COVID food and commodities shortages and high prices by its war, and especially by its systematic stealing and/or destruction of Ukrainian grain. It is the mark of corruption that various business and political elites of developing states are willing to pretend, along with the Putin regime, that Russia is a poor victim of Ukraine and that NATO and the USA had supposedly been positioning themselves for launching future aggression against Russia.
However, what brings this Russian narrative to the level of absurdity is that these same elites in various developing states (along with Hungary’s Victor Orban and some others inside the EU) further accept Russian claims that it is the savior of the Ukraine war’s attendant food and commodities crises. At minimum, what I can say is that this is certainly quite consistent with the tradition of the “Big Lie” pioneered by the Hitler regime in Berlin in the 1930-40’s. In fact, one should not underestimate how this narrative has found resonance among naive and also especially those who – often quite legitimately – feel lingering indignation at historical mistreatment or hypocritical policies of the USA and European powers. This indignation is being manipulated and cynically appropriated both by the Russian leadership and allied local business and political elites in various developing states, including the MENA region. This dangerous fake news (no quotation marks on this expression in this case) must be more actively combated with patient explanations and impactful refutations.
24 April 2022: My Asharq/live evening TV news interview is a bit over seven minutes.
Would an oil embargo be “effective”?
I respond, What is “effective”? Clearly it would not end the war. However, a Ukranian soldier who decides to give his life to resist the Russian invaders has no illusion that his or her sacrifice, on its own, will end the war. But, he will makes what contribution he can.
So, the German leadership refuses to send Ukraine heavy weapons, and certainly won’t send German troops. However, Germany and the EU can at least step up and make this contribution – sanctionRussian oil now. This will greatly hinder Putin’s ability, within two to three months, to finance his war.
We discuss the question raised by the German leadership – by Chancellor Scholz (SPD party), Energy and Environment Minister Habeck (Greens) and Finance Minister Lindner (FDP liberals) – that supposedly an embargo in Russian oil (or gas) would do more harm to German citizens than to the Russian leadership.
The argument heard repeatedly from Berlin is that this is “not worth it” and also, that such an embargo it “would not end the war.”
Also, I answer the question of how much oil could Putin’s Russia divert from Europe to India if the EU and Germany embargoed oil.
I think I posed useful answers to these questions given the time we had. Your thoughts and critiques are welcomed, and solicited.
Can the EU embargo Russian oil now? I explain yes, it can, and how. Also what OPEC will do. My Live Al Jazeera interview on 12.03.22 (ca. 00:20 CET, 18:20 EST). Here are the main points coved, quickly, from memory.
Afer an initial price spike from an EU embargo, the IEA’s SPR – strategic pertroleum reserves – can make up any shortall of oil for some weeks or so or months while OPEC and the USA increase production.
Especially the UAE and most especially Saudi Arabia have significant excess capacity, at least 2 million barrel/day (mbd) they can add to the market. Oil is fungable, there is one global market, so in principle the shock of an embargo could be ended rather quickly.
Regarding Germany: it is the main EU Member state now opposed to an immediate Russian oil embargo. However, I am confident it is being overly cautious and that Germany can do this now without significant disruptions.
In particular, Germany worries about the fact that several refineries in Germany and Central Europe are located inland, and supplied by the Druzhba Pipeline bringing about 700,000 barrels per day of Urals grade oil (i.e., hevier, sulferous oil) as their feedstock. So, the German government is claiming it would be very difficult to supply these refineries. However, this is not such a problem.
Consider that two German refineries, in the South of Germany, Bavaria for example; these two refineries are on a second pipeline, the Transalpine pipeline. This comes from the port of Trieste Italy. So these two refineries are fine. In an embargo of Russian Druzhba Pipeline oil they can be supplied from Trieste.
However, the refinery the German leaders most worry about is called Svedt, and it is located in Germany near the Polish border, also on the Druzhba pipeline [i.e., PCK Oil Refinery, at Schwedt, Oder River, Brandenburg State, Germany]. However, I can make some immediate points about this refinery.
Note: It is indeed possible for the EU – including Germany too – to immediately cut Russian oil imports to zero and not suffer prolonged high oil prices. How? I will explain in a coming post. This is a topic I have been working on intensively the past couple weeks.
I mention some of my (and others’) rationale for saying this in my answer to the second question from Al Jazeera. NOTE: A very good reference on this is: Christof Rühl speaking last week to bne inelligence. I strongly concur with him. (this note added 15 Mar.)
Here’s an English transcript of my Al Jazeera comments on OPEC+ negotiations and some further remarks on the group’s agreement to raise production. Good evening from Berlin. Answer 1. Well, OPEC-Plus is faced with maintaining a very delicate balance. On the one hand, demand in the Western world is down, its weak, while in the Eastern world, in Asia – in China and India – demand is relatively strong. And this is a complicating matter. At the same time, in supply, in Libya, for example, the oil production is not under the [OPEC+] agreement and has been coming back on the market. OPEC has been doing relatively well, in the last few months or so, of balancing the market. The question is, how to maintain this going forward, with its exports, how to balance supply with demand. But what is appearing is not the big split between Russia and Saudi Arabia that we saw last year in the Oil Price War. Now we have differences … such as we see with the UAE [i.e., versus the Saudis]. The UAE would like, as we have seen, also Russia has said, an increase in production. That would be very difficult for other, more expensive producers to do at this point. Answer 2: Yes. It does. I mean, of course the UAE has been getting a lot of press [about its demand to increase production], … so it is a matter of how serious the UAE is, and how serious the Russians are to want to raise production in some way.
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 →
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 →
The oil market remains glutted, with price in the mid-$40’s. Despite furtive hopes over recent weeks by the business press about “imminent re-balancing” of global supply v. demand and about “draw downs” of record-high global storage inventories, data reveal only incremental re-balancing has occurred since fall of 2014 when this all began. (And, from November 2014, the Saudi’s responded by fighting for their market-share rather than for boosting price, which would have been impossible for OPEC to do on its own given the huge supply glut.)
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.”
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.
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 →
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 →
I was interviewed today by CNNMoney’s Matt Egan on what OPEC should expect from US shale as they hold their 169th “Ordinary Meeting” in Vienna tomorrow (2 June). Indeed, at some point oil production and demand will balance (likely in 2017), and then the Saudis and OPEC will have to cautiously test the presently unknown dynamics of high-tech US shale on the rebound. -Egan cites my point of view in his article. Read on … – Tom O’D.
Don’t bet against the resilience of U.S. oil companies
by Matt Egan @mattmegan5 CNNMoney (New York) June 1, 2016: 12:23 PM ET
Many expected U.S. oil output would collapse under the weight of a lengthy price war with the mighty OPEC, the fractured oil cartel that’s meeting in Vienna Thursday.
The U.S. pumped 9.13 million barrels per day in March, down by a miniscule 6,000 barrels from the prior month, according to stats released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That represents a deceleration from recent monthly declines. By comparison, daily U.S. output dropped by 58,000 barrels in February and by 83,000 barrels in December.
Posted on14.May.2022|Comments Off on Latin American Oil: Beijing Still Lending, But for How Long? – I’m quoted by Energy Compass
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 →
This Wikistrat Report on the Saudi kingdom’s “reform” plans and the future of oil is from a press webinar I did on 17 May together with Dr. Ariel Cohen (Atlantic Council, Washington) and Prof. Shaul Mishal (Middle East Division, IDC Herzliya & Tel Aviv U.). A nicely done report on oil market and geopolitical hot topics.