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.
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.
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.
Oil output freeze is needed to ‘create a firm price floor’: analyst
The oil market has given members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries a reason to crack a cautious smile when they meet June 2 in Vienna.
Signs of a more stable oil market have emerged since the cartel members last held a regularly-scheduled meeting. Oil prices CLN6, +0.04%LCON6, -0.38% have gained more than 30% so far this year. And both West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, and Brent crude, the global benchmark, briefly traded above $50 on Thursday.
Global production is falling following a larger-than-expected weekly decline in crude supplies, according to a report from the American Petroleum Institute late Tuesday. The report comes as the number of active-drilling rigs have been in a steady state of decline and oil-company spending cuts, oil-and-gas sector bankruptcies, and recent outages in Africa and North America, have been supportive for crude prices.
“OPEC members are likely to be a little happier going into June’s meeting than they were in December,” Tom Pugh, commodities economist at Capital Economics, said in recent research note.
Oil prices have “surged by about a third since the start of the year,” he said. The “higher prices will have removed some of the pressure on [OPEC] to act to prop up prices.”
But that doesn’t mean major oil producers can sit back and relax when they get together. Oil market supply and demand haven’t fully stabilized and there a lot of factors than can, and probably will, rock OPEC’s boat.
Here’s a rundown of what analysts see as the key issues at hand and possible outcomes for the OPEC summit: Continue reading →
Here’s my live interview recently on Sky News – the all-news UK channel. It just went up.
Here’s the gist: Years-long high prices brought the US shale revolution and other new higher-cost oil online like offshore of Brazil and Africa. This glut was already dropping prices when the Saudi’s decided in November 2014 that OPEC alone could not cut enough production to reverse the slide. So what to do if Russia and Mexico won’t join an OPEC cut? Continue reading →
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 →
Falling oil prices are not a US-EU-Saudi plot against Russia, Iran and Venezuela… though their effect is certainly not unwelcomed..Foto: REUTERS/Jim Bourg
[Printed in IP Journal, German Council on Foreign Affairs] Pin-pointing the reason for the dramatic – and continuing – fall in the price of oil is relatively easy: OPEC held its 166th conference in late-November 2014 to decide on a strategy to address oil prices, which had been falling at five to ten percent per month since July. Rather than pursue a production cut
EU and Iranian foreign ministers in Vienna (Austrian Foreign Ministry)
My latest at the IP Journal of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP): US-EU Cooperate on Iranian Nonproliferation: Agreement positions Tehran as regional leader — IP Journal 14/08/2014
Although negotiators failed to reach agreement on Iran’s nuclear program by the late-July deadline set last November, as Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif put it: “We have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing. … I am sure Secretary Kerry will make the same recommendation.” Indeed, Washington, Brussels, and Tehran readily agreed on a four-month extension.
This represents a sea change in tone from the period prior to November 2013, Continue reading →
Kiss between Rafsanjani and Saudi ambassador stirs controversy Former Iranian President, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani (R) exchanges greetings with the new Saudi Arabian ambassador to Iran, Abdulrahman Bin Groman Shahri in Tehran, Al Monitor, April 22, 2014. (photo by Twitter/ISNA)
Appreciation: I am honored to again be invited by my Iranian colleagues in New York, Professors Reza Ghorashi, Hamidah Zangeneh and Hamid Sedghi, to join this panel and discuss the geopolitics of US-Iranian relations. And, my thanks to Prof. Sedghi for reading my paper as I am teaching in Berlin and cannot be with you today. I only ask that those who dislike my message, kindly refrain from shooting the messenger.
The US-Iran nuclear confrontation finally appears close to resolution. This is because both Presidents Obama and Rouhani desire a diplomatic solution, and both countries need to move on. With such an agreement, it is possible that relations will slowly become normalized.
Of particular note—as a direct consequence—are the recent secret negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia towards a rapprochement. These were initially facilitated by Oman (e.g. see reports here, here, and here). Until very recently the Saudis had remained fiercely opposed to any US deal with Iran. However, the Saudi’s are realists, and know when it is time to adapt. Figure 1. is a photo of kisses exchanged on 22 April between ex-President Rafsanjani of Iran and King Abdullah’s ambassador to Iran, which caused quite a stir in the region. Agreements reached in these recently revealed negotiations have already significantly affected the presidential-succession crisis in Lebanon, sectarian conflicts in Iraq, and the conflict in Yemen. Next the two sides are expected to negotiate regarding their interests in the Syrian conflict.
In addition, the nature of the US-Saudi relationship is changing, transferring much more responsibility on the Kingdom and its Gulf partners for their own defense–albeit strongly supported with US weapons and logistics. This is part of the US disengagement from direct regional interventions, which will be significantly furthered by a successful US-Iran agreement (e.g., see here and here, and this report on Saudi defense buildup from Balfour at Harvard).
Note: These “USA Oil Seminar” posts are extra readings for my students to better understand how US energy policy is developed and to hear the views of US experts. The seminar is: “The Global Oil System & US Policy” at JFK Institute of FU-Berlin.
This Friday, watch live (or the recording later on): Is the U.S. a Rising Energy Superpower? Implications for Global Markets and Asia, the Middle East, Russia, and Europe. CSIS upcoming talk by Fereidun Fesharaki. FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2014 | 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM . Moderated by David Pumphrey.
BACKGROUND: This week, the class reading assignments are a couple conference papers I wrote a few years ago on the history and structure of today’s global oil system, and how it grew to replace the neo-colonial oil system. Continue reading →