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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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Even OPEC Thinks Oil Prices Are Too High

  • Oil prices spiked towards $100 on Monday as rumors of Russia invading Ukraine spread, and sentiment only seems to be getting more bullish.
  • Even OPEC members are worried about an out-of-control oil price rally as it will add to inflation and make energy expensive for citizens.
  • The IEA has highlighted the need for increased investment in order to keep up with climbing demand as spare capacity falls.

Yesterday, West Texas Intermediate touched $95 per barrel for the first time in years, and Brent briefly traded above $96 per barrel. Expectations about Brent hitting $100 per barrel are now more about ‘when” rather than “if”. Even OPEC is worried about it. Unfortunately, it seems there is little it can do as a group to prevent this from happening. “For me, being professional, I can see it happening, but I don’t want it to happen,” said Egypt’s Tarek el Molla about oil reaching $100 per barrel. “It is on the way, definitely,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble this week.

El Molla was speaking at an industry event in Egypt where his counterparts from Cyprus and Israel shared the sentiment, with Cyprus’ energy minister saying the prospect of oil at $100 was a “very scary” one.

Meanwhile, OPEC’s head, Mohamed Barkindo, said the cartel was making an effort to ensure supply. “There’s no doubt that we are concerned with ensuring that the security of supply is also guaranteed,” he said during the same event, EGYPS 2022. OPEC and its partners were working to “ensure that we continue to be reliable and dependable to supply oil to global markets.”

Perhaps meant to appease traders, this last statement is more likely to worry them. Even though the main driver behind the latest spike in oil prices is geopolitical rather than fundamental, with all eyes on Ukraine, tensions will sooner or later dissipate, and fundamentals will re-establish themselves. And if the latest from the International Energy Agency’s chief, Fatih Birol, is any indication, oil’s fundamentals continue to be unfavorable for fans of affordable oil.

After urging the world to stop exploring for more oil in the IEA’s Roadmap to Net Zero published in May last year, Birol once again did a 180 and urged OPEC to pump more. The first time he, or rather, the IEA, did that was last October when it said in its Oil Market Report that OPEC’s spare production capacity was dangerously low and it needed to boost investments in new production.

“As the bloc ramps up production, its spare capacity will dwindle. Compared with a cushion of 9 mb/d in 1Q21, effective spare capacity could fall below 4 mb/d by 2Q22 and be concentrated in only a few Middle Eastern countries, although supply is expected to exceed demand. Shrinking global spare capacity underscores the need for increased investments to meet demand further down the road,” the IEA said.

Related: U.S. Rig Count See Massive Climb On Higher Oil Prices

Yet many OPEC members cannot afford to invest what’s necessary in new exploration, not least because of documents such as the IEA’s very own Road Map to Net Zero, which predict the imminent demise of oil and gas. Banks are pulling out of the oil and gas industry, so financing is about to become trickier to obtain, and Big Oil is trying to become green even though it saw a windfall from the improvement in oil prices that perhaps even its most ESG-minded investors would appreciate.

Under other circumstances, some OPEC members, especially the poorer ones, would have perhaps appreciated Brent crude trading at over $100 per barrel. However, the circumstances right now are quite challenging. The world’s top economies are fighting runaway inflation while trying to juggle their new climate change agenda and keeping energy relatively affordable for most of their citizens—this last part is becoming the main challenge.

Normally, excessively high prices lead to a slump in demand and this is cause for concern enough for oil-dependent economies. But in the current context of a deliberate push away from fossil fuels, excessive prices for oil could provide a much-needed additional motivation to double down on the energy transition, both on the part of governments and businesses. 

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on February 16 2022 said:
    In my opinion a fair price for Brent crude ranges from $100-$110 a barrel. Such a price is good for the global economy as it stimulates and energizes the three chunks that make up the global economy: (i) global oil investments; (ii) the global oil industry and (iii) the economies of the oil-producing countries. If the oil price exceeds the tolerance level of the global economy, it will let the world know in no uncertain terms. A case in point is when Brent crude hit $147 a barrel in 2008 and was followed by a global financial crisis that almost brought the global economy to the brink of collapse.

    The oil prices were surging long before the Ukraine crisis came on the scene but geopolitical events always tend to grab the limelight. Prices are rising because the global oil market is in its most bullish state since 2014 and has already entered a super-cycle phase that could last up to ten years and could take Brent crude oil price to $120 a barrel in the next few years.

    To these two unique factors could be added two additional bullish factors, namely an accelerating and continuing decline of global of global oil inventories and a shrinking global spare production capacity mostly OPEC+’s.

    Another major difference between 2014 and 2022 is that in 2014 US shale oil production was a force to be reckoned with while in 2022 it is a spent force.

    OPEC+ is doing its utmost to keep the market balanced. OPEC+ has enough spare capacity to keep the oil market balanced in both 2022 and 2023. Beyond that, it urgently needs to add more capacity. This means it has to start investing heavily in expanding capacity immediately as it normally takes up to 5 years before investment reaches fruition.

    Yet many OPEC members are being deterred from investment not least because of discredited and ludicrous calls like the IEA’s net-zero emissions 2050 roadmap calling for the immediate halt to all future investments in oil and gas and banks becoming more restrictive of loans and financing to the oil industry.

    High oil prices are here to stay and could last up to 10 years or as long as the super-cycle lasts.

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

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