Tag Archives: USA

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

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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

Europe’s Gas Crunch:  The Pending Crisis Around Nordstream 2 & Ukraine Transit

My public talk in Washington, 12 June:

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Despite Berlin and Moscow’s rush to make the Nordstream 2 (NS2) pipeline construction through the Baltic Sea a fait accompli, opposition from several EU states has stalled its completion. Meanwhile, Gazprom’s transit contract with Ukraine will expire in January and Moscow has put unacceptable preconditions on negotiating a new one. Once again, Europe must brace itself for a Russian gas-supply crisis. Professor Thomas O’Donnell will discuss European states’ various interests and heightened energy anxieties, the prospects for the NS2 pipeline, and Russia’s strategy.

Speaker:  Thomas O’Donnell, 

Instructor, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin;  Title VIII Short-term Scholar, Kennan Institute — Scholar’s Research-Project Page at Kennan

RSVP Now

Wednesday, June 12, 2019
2:00pm-3:00pm  –   5th Floor Conference Room

Directions

Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004   Phone: 202.691.4000    kennan@wilsoncenter.org

Washington interviews: Energy Relations of Russia, Germany, Poland & Ukraine (Kennan Fellow)

g7-trump-merkel-round-9jun18-jezco_denzel_ger_gov_photo.jpgWhat are US experts’ and officials’ views on the increasingly conflictive energy and geostrategic relations between Russia, Germany, Poland and Ukraine? 

Greetings. I’m in Washington as a “Title VIII” fellow of the Kennan Institute in the Woodrow Wilson Center, interviewing people in think tanks and government (legislative and executive) on these topics. I’ll also give a public talk on this at Wilson on 12 June, at 2 PM (more info soon). putin_wink-round-hnewkremlinstooge-wordpress

I’m interested to hear anything readers think should be asked and of whom.  Don’t hesitate to write me at twod(at)umich.edu or my (temp) Wilson email: thomas.odonnell(at) wilsoncenter.org

A central issue: why is Germany so adamantly for Nordstream 2 despite the negative security consequences for Ukraine and despite the tremendous hit this project is causing to German soft-power not only with Poland, but with most Central and Eastern European (CEE) and Nordic states?  (Here’s my own analysis.)  How do US experts see this? Continue reading

Germany’s Real LNG Policy [My BPJ analysis]

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“Natural gas instead of Diesel” © REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

My latest at: Berlin Policy Journal (German Council on Foreign Relations), June 28, 2018:

Germany’s Real LNG Policy
Germany’s government has endorsed imports of liquid natural gas for the first time—but not because of Russia and Nord Stream 2. 

The German federal government has decided in favor of building liquid natural gas (LNG) import terminals and infrastructure. In March, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU-SPD government, in its “coalition contract,” pledged to “Make Germany the site for LNG infrastructure.” This is a notable policy change, because in Germany the opposition to LNG imports and use has been so much stronger than anywhere else in Europe.

The aim of this new endorsement is to reduce maritime and roadway heavy-transport emissions. However, many in Germany argue that using “small-scale” LNG in this way, as a “bridging” fossil fuel, is “wasted investment”. They contend that Energiewende-mandated electric vehicles can and will rapidly de-carbonize heavy transport. Still others oppose LNG imports on the grounds that they would unnecessarily diversify Germany’s gas suppliers with the aim of offsetting increasing reliance on Russian pipeline gas. They insist that Russian pipeline gas has been “historically reliable” and is cheaper for Germany than building large-scale import terminals for LNG.
Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Trump’s promise to “stay totally independent” of OPEC is populist hype [My IBD interview]

eia_apr15_us_oil_prod-importsContrary to his campaign hype (see article below), Trump-as-president will not do anything to interfere with the free flow of oil or gas to or from the USA.  As I pointed out in the Investors Business Daily interview (Gillian Rich’s story is below), people central to Trump’s administration – such as Rex Tillerson, his designated secretary of state and former CEO of Exxon, and Harold Hamm, Trump’s fracking billionaire friend he wanted for secretary of energy – are global-market-oriented businessmen who would never agree to disconnect the USA from global energy markets.

The free flow of petroleum through the unified global market traded in US dollars – what I call the “Global Barrel” – is central to the business model of every private as well as every national oil company.  Today there is essentially one, global oil price. If you break up the global market by limiting imports or exports, you get national markets with national prices.  Then what?

If the US price went higher than the global price due to keeping out cheap foreign oil, Trump’s popular approval would dive. And, if the U.S. price went lower due to a domestic production glut of fracked oil, then his support among business would tank.

Moreover, the unified global market serves as the key element in the world’s collective energy-security system by guaranteeing equal access and prices to all suppliers and consumers.   Continue reading

Don’t write off American oil boom despite OPEC – CNNMoney cites my analysis

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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. oil boom, fueled by the shale revolution, has obviously taken a few punches from OPEC’s strategy of all-out pumping. But the latest numbers show that American production continues to remain stubbornly high in recent months despite the crash in crude to as low as $26 a barrel in February.

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.

Continue reading

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

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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

Bypass Operation: Nord Stream 2, Russia-to-Germany pipeline deal, raises questions

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Here’s my latest at Berlin Policy Journal (DGAP):  With Nord Stream 2, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is nearing his goal of cutting Ukraine out of the gas supply picture.  October 20, 2015

On 18 June, during the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an agreement was signed to build a controversial new “Nord Stream 2” pipeline under the Baltic Sea that would go directly from Russia to northern Germany, with a capacity of 55 billion cubic meters (bcm). The project, which consists of two segments that would run along the same route as the existing two segments of the 55 bcm Nord Stream line, completed in 2011, has met with strong opposition from energy officials in Brussels, as well as leaders in Ukraine and some other EU states.

Indeed, the agreement between Russia’s Gazprom and a consortium of German, Austrian, French,, and Anglo-Dutch companies came as a surprise. After all, in January 2015 Gazprom announced it had abandoned the project, blaming both the falling price of gas over the previous year and anti-monopoly restrictions in the EU’s Third Energy Package, which prohibit suppliers of gas from also owning pipelines delivering it. This provision has prevented Gazprom from ever filling the original North Stream more than half way.[1] In retrospect, the sudden signing of a Nord Stream 2 agreement only six months after the project was supposedly abandoned, plus the fact that the consortium foresees a quick start reveals the prior cancellation to have been a political ruse. Continue reading

A Strange “No!” Alignment: Greeks, IMF and Washington v. Berlin and Brussels

What a strange rebellion against the international financial order.  On Sunday 5 July, Greece voted “No!” by a resounding 61% to the bailout conditions insisted upon by Berlin, Brussels and “the creditors.”  But, what is truly unique here is the alignment of international forces for renegotiation of Greek debt.

Throughout the post-War era, whenever it came down to imposing “discipline” on other small, debt-defaulting states, the most intrepid champions of the norms of the international financial order have consistently been Washington and the IMF (just ask Argentina’s Mrs. Kirchner, she’ll tell you).

Yet, look who agrees with the Greeks that their debts–in their present magnitude and structure–are impossible and potentially disastrous for the country: Continue reading