The U.S. shale revolution helped avert a “major, major energy chaos” in the world, OPEC’s Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo said in a somewhat puzzling interview with CNBC this week. Barkindo was also quite delicate in his reference to the role U.S. shale played in the latest price crash, which, together with the praise, suggests the official head of the cartel is trying to make peace with any and all amid discussions in U.S. Congress about anti-OPEC legislation that would make its members liable to prosecution under U.S. antitrust laws.
Barkindo said OPEC had saved the global oil industry in 2016 when it struck the original production cut deal that saw almost 1.8 million bpd removed from global supply, but added that U.S. shale had helped to avoid a crisis, possibly implying a shortage of crude as demand rose.
The comments are somewhat contradictory: “The decisions that OPEC took, together with our non-OPEC partners, literally rescued this industry from total collapse,” he said, recalling how Brent crude fell below US$30 a barrel at one point in 2015. Since virtually all industry analysts and observers agree that it was U.S. shale development that led the surge in global oversupply that was the main reason behind the price drop, it is a bit unclear what energy chaos the shale boom helped avert.
Barkindo further said the OPEC decision to cut production had actually helped U.S. producers to survive the downturn that followed the 2014 price collapse.
"In particular, during this longest cycle where we saw prices crash by over 80 percent at one point, where we saw the supply and demand balance in (a period of) disequilibrium that had never been witnessed, where we saw more than 100 U.S. companies file for bankruptcy with all the negative consequences on the industry, the regions where they operate … no party was insulated," Barkindo said.
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Yet, it was OPEC initially opening up the pumps to the maximum that added to the flood of new U.S. supply and eventually brought about the price collapse, as those with longer memories will remember. This fact makes the OPEC secretary general’s remark borderline ironic, but it does suggest that Barkindo may be trying to appease the U.S. and reduce the likelihood of NOPEC legislation getting passed. This likelihood is not great to begin with: the bill is not the first one that Congress has discussed over the decades as a means of putting the brakes on OPEC’s cartel practices.
Interestingly enough, Barkindo had something to say about that, too. It was that "without OPEC, the U.S. would probably have created another organization to do exactly the same." Now, this remark does not play into the scenario of the official trying to make better friends with the U.S. as it suggests the United States is no better than OPEC when it comes to market control practices, but it does seem to send the message that OPEC and the U.S. oil industry need each other.
This message was reinforced by Barkindo’s remark that OPEC and non-OPEC producers need to maintain their relationship “in order to sustain the relative, and fragile, market stability that we have been able to achieve."
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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He should have the courage of his convictions to admit that the oil glut that led to the 2014 oil price crash wasn’t caused by US shale oil production since the impact of US shale oil production on the global oil supplies was, is and will remain minor for the foreseeable future. OPEC members brought the oil price crash on themselves by far exceeding their production quotas.
Another factor which contributed to the 2014 oil price crash is the United States manipulation of oil prices by hiking the value of the dollar and also through exaggerated claims about rises in US oil production and huge build-up in its oil and refined products inventories in order to depress oil prices and achieve geopolitical and economic aims.
If OPEC’s Secretary General is trying by his praise of the role of US shale oil in saving the global oil market from chaos to make peace with any and all amid discussions in US Congress about anti-OPEC legislation that would make its members liable to prosecution under U.S. antitrust laws, then he is taking the wrong approach.
The only approach that the United States understands is for OPEC to meet threat with threat, sanctions with sanctions, retaliation with retaliation and a fight with a fight. He should learn from China’s dealing with the United States over the trade war between them. China stood its ground and never ran away from retaliating blow for blow for whatever tariffs the Trump administration imposed on Chinese exports. That is what brought President Trump to the negotiations table not a softly softly approach.
OPEC’s Secretary General could learn another lesson from Saudi Arabia’s dealing with President Trump over his threat to punish it over the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. When Saudi Arabia threatened to retaliate against any punishment with stronger measures including cutting its oil production to force prices up and cancelling lucrative arms deals, President Trump backed down.
Therefore, OPEC shouldn’t be unduly worried about the“No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act,” or NOPEC Act. It has enough muscle to retaliate against the US. If NOPEC ever becomes a law and the United States tried to sue any OPEC member under the NOPEC Act, OPEC members collectively could retaliate by withdrawing every single penny they keep in the United States and stop investing in the US altogether. They could also stop all their oil exports to the US and even cut their oil production to force prices further up. This will harm the US economy most being the world’s largest consumer of oil. They could also discard the petrodollar and adopt the petro-yuan instead thus undermining the US financial system.
In fact, OPEC should pre-empt and sue the United States at the WTO for manipulation of oil prices to achieve unfair benefits for its economy at the expense of the economies of OPEC members.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London