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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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$150 Oil Is Still A Distinct Possibility

  • Massive SPR release news sent prices back below $100 per barrel.
  • Expected declines in Russian exports and possible sanctions on its crude exports may lift prices again.
  • Coal prices jumped following the news of a coal import ban on Russia.
Oil

The European Union seems to be warming to the idea of direct sanctions on Russia’s energy industry, slapping a ban on imports of coal for starters. The United States is releasing 180 million barrels of crude, and several IEA members are releasing another 60+ million barrels. And Saudi Arabia just hiked its prices for all buyers. Much higher oil prices may be around the corner.

When a few months ago analysts were seemingly trying to out-forecast each other on crude oil prices, the most commonly cited bullish factors were OPEC+’s unwillingness to boost production by more than originally agreed while demand for oil continued strong.

Now, all the news appears to be on the war in Ukraine, and the main bullish factor for oil is the expected continued decline in Russian oil exports. The country is the largest exporter of crude oil and oil products and a big supplier to the European Union, which explains the EU’s reluctance to directly target its energy industry. Yet pressure is growing on Brussels to do just that, and with coal already on the sanction list, it’s probably only a matter of time before oil becomes a target, too. When this happens, Brent may well top $120 and stay there.

In the meantime, the United States has publicly stated it had banned all Russian oil and fuel imports, but in fact, the ban is only coming into effect on April 22, and in the meantime, the U.S. is stocking up on Russian oil and products.

Per data from the Energy Information Administration, in the week to March 25, the U.S. imported an average of 100,000 barrels of Russian oil and fuels, up from 70,000 bpd in the previous week and zero barrels daily a month earlier.

While all this was happening, oil prices dipped after the announcement of the U.S. SPR release, with West Texas Intermediate even falling below $100 per barrel. Yet the dip was only a brief one, and prices are once again above $100 as fundamentals reassert themselves after the initial market reaction to the Biden administration’s decision for the reserve release.

Now, prices are likely to continue climbing, just like they did after the first Biden SPR release last year, again in an attempt to put a lid on retail fuel prices. At the time, prices reacted with a dip immediately after the news and then rebounded as emotions gave way to facts.

These included the one that oil grades to be released from the reserve were not the ones refiners needed to boost their fuel production and the one that a reserve release can only provide temporary relief at the pump without actually fixing the supply problem.

Now, the release is massive in comparison to the first one. It would amount to 1 million bpd over a period of six months. Theoretically, this would cover a third of the Russian oil export dip as predicted by the IEA. In practice, traders have probably already started to worry about how the administration will replenish the SPR after the release and what that would do to oil prices.

Related: Does China’s Friendship With Russia Really Have ‘No Limits’?

Meanwhile, in Europe, coal prices jumped following the news of a coal import ban on Russia, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen saying, “We will impose an import ban on coal from Russia, worth 4 billion euros ($4.39 billion) per year. This will cut another important revenue source for Russia.”

Sadly, it will also raise energy costs for European further, heating up the debate about who are anti-Russian sanctions actually hurting more: Russia or the EU. The European Union imports 45 percent of the coal it uses from Russia, according to European Commission data. That’s 45 percent of coal imports it will now need to replace because cutting coal use sharply is simply not an option.

Incidentally, Indonesia, which is the world’s largest coal exporter, hiked its April delivery prices by as much as 42 percent. This sounds quite similar to what Saudi Arabia did with its oil prices and likely means the same thing: buyers have fewer options now; it’s a sellers’ market.

But coal prices are set to rise further because Russia supplies as much as 70 percent of Europe’s thermal coal, the sort used for power generation and heating. And to make things more interesting, global stocks of thermal coal are tight, according to Rystad Energy.

What does this mean for oil? Based on what we saw with gas and coal prices in Europe last year, the prices of all fossil fuels are linked. When one becomes prohibitively expensive, demand for the others rises. That’s why coal prices soared last year, in fact, as utilities turned from gas to coal in search of a more affordable source of energy.

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In this situation, the normal rule of the cure for higher oil prices being even higher oil prices does not really apply, at least not completely. Energy demand is hard to kill, regardless of costs, especially in places like the European Union, where people have lived in complete energy comfort and security for several generations.

Oil prices will likely rise after the EU’s ban on Russian coal. And if the EU decides to go further and target oil itself, things could get really interesting on the price front and on the streets of European cities.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on April 07 2022 said:
    While a $150 oil isn’t even a distinct possibility in normal circumstances because it is far above the tolerance of the global economy, it could easily become a reality if Russian crude oil exports were sanctioned. Prices could rise to $140-$150 a barrel.

    No one single oil producer in the world or a group of producers including OPEC+ and US shale oil could replace 8.0 million barrels a day (mbd) of Russian crude oil exports. This could plunge the world in a most serious oil price shock.

    Even full sanctions against Russian oil exports couldn’t stop the flow of Russian crude exports. The reason is that a big chunk of Russian exports already goes to China. Another chunk is already going to India and the remainder is being bought by oil traders around the world despite claims to the contrary.

    Moreover, even if Russia exports a smaller volumes of its oil, these will be more than compensated for by rising Brent crude prices. Furthermore, the damage to the economies of those imposing the sanctions will be far bigger than to Russia’s.

    The United States which is the world’s second largest importer of crude oil after China importing an estimated 9.0 mbd is the most vulnerable to oil prices shocks among the major economies of the world. On the other hand, the impact on the EU’s economy will reduce its economic growth this year from under 2% to almost zero.

    And while the combined US SPR release and the IEA’s of 240 million barrels amounting to 1.33 mbd over a period of 180 days are bound to cause prices to decline slightly, this impact will be short-lived. Moreover, they will eventually have to be replaced probably at higher prices.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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