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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is a freelance writer on oil and gas, renewable energy, climate change, energy policy and geopolitics. He is based in Pittsburgh, PA.

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Saudi Arabia Won’t Bring 2 Million Bpd Online

President Trump said in a tweet on Saturday that Saudi Arabia agreed to boost oil production by 2 million barrels per day (mb/d), a claim that surely came as news to the Saudis.

The tightening of the oil market has pushed up prices, which is always a concern for U.S. politicians wary of catching heat from their constituents.

The decision by OPEC+ in June to hike production by 1 mb/d looks increasingly inadequate in dealing with the growing number of supply outages around the world. It’s no surprise that Trump wants more Saudi oil on the market, but he likely misunderstood what the Saudis told him.

Saudi Arabia was producing 10 mb/d in May and recent reports suggest they might add as much as 800,000 bpd to 1 mb/d in July, a massive increase in such a short period of time.

But it’s a far cry from the 2 mb/d that Trump thinks Saudi Arabia will add. That would translate into overall production of around 12 mb/d, which is probably unrealistic for a few reasons.

First, there are technical questions about how far and how fast Saudi Arabia can push its oil fields. Can they ramp up to 12 mb/d? Probably, but there is not a lot of historical evidence to go on. Also, they probably can’t do it immediately, it would take time, perhaps more than a year.

The second – and more important – reason why Saudi Arabia won’t comply with Trump’s wishes to add another 2 mb/d onto the market is that they don’t want to. Ramping up that much would leave the oil market dangerously low on spare capacity, cutting it down to less than 1 mb/d. At that point, any supply disruption would send oil prices skyrocketing. Indeed, it wouldn’t even take a tangible disruption – the mere possibility of another outage would lead to a significant volatility. Related: U.S. Oil Exports Overtake OPEC’s Number 3

Of course, Saudi Arabia is aware of this, which is why it is extremely hard to imagine them adding 2 mb/d.

Perhaps that is why the White House walked back President Trump’s comments when they published details of Trump’s conversation with King Salman. “In response to the President’s assessment of a deficit in the oil market, King Salman affirmed that the Kingdom maintains a two million barrel per day spare capacity, which it will prudently use if and when necessary to ensure market balance and stability,” the statement from the White House read.

Increasing supply by 2 mb/d is a very different thing than “prudently” using spare capacity to “ensure market stability.”

Nevertheless, Trump is probably right that the oil market needs more supply. And OPEC could struggle to meet the emerging supply gap, which seems to grow worse with each passing day. Venezuela has lost close to 1 mb/d in the past two years, and could lose another 500,000 bpd over the next year. An outage in Canada is expected to send a little over 350,000 bpd offline for the month of July. And Trump himself could be responsible for disrupting around 1 mb/d – or more – of Iranian supply.

“Don't forget the one negative to the Iran deal is that you lose a lot of oil, and they got to make up for it. And who is their big enemy? Iran. OK. You think of it. Iran is their big enemy, so they are going to have to do it,” Trump said on Sunday in a Fox News interview. “And I have a very good relationship with the (Saudi) king and with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and with the others around and they are going to have to put out more oil.” Related: India Folds Under Pressure, Halts Iranian Oil Imports

Over the weekend, the oil market received another jolt on news that force majeure will likely be declared at two additional Libyan export terminals, which has translated into the disruption of more than 850,000 bpd and has pushed the country’s output down to a paltry 300,000 bpd. It’s a staggering loss, and it almost single-handedly wipes out the planned increase from the OPEC+ coalition.

Oddly, oil prices did not spike at the start of trading on Monday, which suggests oil traders clearly didn’t entirely dismiss President Trump’s bold claim that OPEC would add 2 mb/d. The market is probably betting that Saudi Arabia could add more supply than previously indicated.

But as the supply outages mount, Saudi Arabia is in danger of losing control of the market. Riyadh does not want to burn through all of its spare capacity, which means it won’t add something like 2 mb/d. However, that means that the market is starting to look undersupplied for the second half of 2018. It’s a tricky balance for Riyadh, wanting to keep the market balanced but also wanting to keep dry powder for future disruptions.

Most likely, the Saudis will opt for allowing prices to go higher rather than using up most of their spare capacity.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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  • Mo on July 02 2018 said:
    But where are the shale producers? Why arent they the ones to close the production gap?
  • John Brown on July 02 2018 said:
    The answer here is simple. US production is growing by leaps & bounds. In a year w WTI over $70 it can add a million plus bpd. In the meantime the US has plenty of oil in the strategic reserve. Release a million bpd & stop the rampant speculation being fueled by those that want higher prices. The Gov can set aside the money & then use it to fill the reserve back up when prices drop.
  • Mamdouh G Salameh on July 03 2018 said:
    Whilst it is ok for analysts and authors of essays on oil and energy for oilprice.com to make reasonable assumptions, it is a totally different matter when they start treating these assumptions as facts without corroborative evidence.

    By asking Saudi Arabia to raise its oil production by 2 million barrels a day (mbd) ,President Trump shows he is either not au fait with the machinations of the global oil market or is ill-advised by his advisers. Either way, he could be excused.

    And while Saudi Arabia doesn’t normally refuse any requests from the United States, the assumption that it can raise its oil production by 1 mbd let alone 2 mbd is a myth. Saudi claim that it can produce at least 12.5 mbd if needed doesn’t stand scrutiny. Saudi Arabia’s oil production peaked at 9.64 mbd in 2005 and has been in decline since. Saudi production never exceeded 10.4 mbd before with almost one million barrels of which came not from actual production but from stored crude oil on tankers and on land. Saudi Arabia is only able to raise its oil production by 400,000 b/d being the amount it cut under the OPEC/non-OPEC production agreement. And even this will come from stored oil and not from actual production. One then reaches the logical conclusion that if Saudi Arabia doesn’t have the capacity to produce 12.5 mbd under any circumstances and, then its claim that it has a spare production capacity of 2 mbd is highly questionable.

    The second faulty assumption is that US sanctions against Iran will cost the country 1 mbd of its oil exports. This is another myth. By asking OPEC and Saudi Arabia to lift their production to offset a possible fallout in Iranian oil exports, President Trump is merely engaging in a psychological warfare aimed at promoting the impression that US sanctions against Iran will lead to a decline of Iran’s oil exports by 1 mbd.

    And contrary to assumptions by the Bank of America and many analysts, Iran will not lose a single barrel from its oil exports as a result of the sanctions. Iran’s trump card is the petro-yuan which has virtually nullified the effectiveness of US sanctions. Major customers like the European Union (EU), China, India, Turkey, Russia and Japan are still committed to continue importing Iranian crude.

    By lifting its oil production in response to President Trump’s request, Saudi Arabia will be working against its own interests’ and those of the OPEC members who all need an oil price far higher than $80 a barrel to balance their budgets.

    OPEC’s promise of restoring 1 mbd to the market will in effect translate into less than 600,000 barrels a day (b/d).

    And despite current outages in Venezuela, Libya, Nigeria and Canada, it is my considered view that the global oil market has not re-balanced completely. There is still a small glut in the market capable of taking care of these outages. The proof is that oil prices have been hovering around $73-$78 a barrel for the last three weeks rather than surging far beyond $80.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Mitch on July 03 2018 said:
    What is the point in holding back a lot of spare capacity if we know production and demand are in roughly in balance, and we are within the average volumes of oil in storage? Yet unplanned outages are happening to the tune of 1 mb/d or more right now. Might as well keep stocks from dropping now before the Iranian oil leaves the market(if it does).

    It is a great time to use spare capacity that isnt the surge type, or drawing down fields/pressure faster than what has been engineered to maintain the integrity of the reservoirs. The writing is on the wall that if the nations who have spare capacity dont bring their exports up, we could run into a supply crunch in the 2nd half, when demand is highest
  • Temur on July 04 2018 said:
    Dr. Salameh, In regards to "Saudi Arabia’s oil production peaked at 9.64 mbd in 2005 and has been in decline since." the data that I am looking at http://peakoilbarrel.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Saudi-Arabia.jpg doesn't support your statement. Please help me understand the discrepancy. As you can see they usually exceeded 9.64 mbd for the last eight years.

    You were talking about peak oil way back in 2006, back then you claimed that it had already occurred in 2004 https://www.iaee.org/en/publications/proceedingsabstractpdf.aspx?id=561 , and you claimed this was the case "...despite all the technology we hear about..." Of course no one could predict the US onshore shale revolution, nor the cost reductions offshore. While it is quite forgivable to be wrong about the future as you were in 2006, I'm really struggling to understand why you claim they peaked in 2005 when their production numbers clearly show otherwise.
  • Tom Blazek on July 04 2018 said:
    If President Trump is worried about US Gasoline prices, he could easily allow year-round use of E-15 and higher ethanol blends in gasoline. High Octane, Clean Burning Ethanol, currently sells for around 70 cents per gallon less than gasoline. So, what’s holding you up Mr. President, could it be that Scott Pruitt is the Real President? You have certainly shown that Scott runs the show, and that you are willing to sacrifice the Ethanol Industry or the Agriculture Vote for Scott and his Pals.

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