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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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Is This The Future For OPEC?

OPEC and Russia, along with other countries participating in the oil production cuts aimed at balancing the market, are looking to create a “super group of oil producing countries,” according to a report from The National.

The move would institutionalize the framework that has been in place since late 2016, when OPEC, plus a group of non-OPEC oil-producing countries led by Russia, cut output by a combined 1.8 million barrels per day (mb/d). The trick has been keeping everyone on board with the limits for an extended period of time, with multiple extensions, while also trying to figure out what to do when the oil market reaches the long-sought after “balance.”

The fear has been that all participants would return to producing flat out, ramping up production in a short period of time, a specter that threatened to crash oil prices all over again. Up until now, OPEC has maintained a shockingly high level of compliance, although that has been aided by the involuntary cuts (i.e. collapse) of output in Venezuela. Still, OPEC and its coalition partners have been cagey about what they plan on doing at the end of this year, offering soothing but vague comments about a “gradual” exit.

But, according to The National, the “super group” led by Saudi Arabia and Russia would offer an institutional framework to manage the oil market post-2018. They hope to create a draft proposal before the end of the year. The goal is “together with the secretary general [of Opec, Mohammad Barkindo], to put together a draft agreement for this group [of 24] to stay together for a longer time,” UAE’s oil minster Suhail Al Mazrouei, who currently holds the OPEC presidency, told The National in Abu Dhabi.

In an optimistic scenario, Al Mazrouei said, the draft would be signed by all 24 participants by the end of 2018. The report comes just days after OPEC Secretary-General had hinted that the “building blocks” for a permanent OPEC/non-OPEC arrangement were forming.

Related: Trump Proposes Sale Of Transmission Assets

The significance of this, if it comes to pass, is profound. OPEC has been around for a long time, cutting output when the market gets oversupplied and ramping up when prices spike. Market management from the cartel has proven to reduce price volatility, although it often translates into higher prices. The period between 2014 and 2016, when OPEC eschewed intervention and let the market sort things out on its own, was characterized by wild price swings, volatility and uncertainty.

A return to management at the end of 2016 brought back stability to a large degree, while also raising prices. And the cuts, both in absolute terms as well as the psychological impact on the market, were augmented by the participation of Russia and the other non-OPEC producers.

A permanent arrangement would extend this level of stability. That isn’t to say that volatility won’t occur (it will, of course), but only that there are greater odds of less volatility relative to a situation in which they abandoned cooperation altogether.

The surge in U.S. shale production complicates their plans, but also makes the vow to cooperate beyond the current agreement all the more substantial. A world in which the U.S. is adding upwards of 1 mb/d of new supply in a single year is also one in which OPEC’s tinkering with output levels would be crucial to avoid another price collapse.

UAE’s oil minister Al Mazrouei said he doesn’t see a reason why “we cannot continue to work in the future, it’s [down to] what framework we deliver together with the secretary general to ensure we are giving something reasonable for everyone to adapt,” according to The National.

Related: Saudi/Russia-Led Oil Supergroup In The Making

For now, OPEC compliance remains well above 100 percent, and all signs point to continued cooperation for the remainder of the year. Some investment banks and market analysts have predicted that OPEC would overshoot the balancing target, draining inventories below the five-year average at some point around mid-year, which could result in a deterioration of compliance levels. Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih said that the OPEC/non-OPEC group would continue to keep the limits in place, even if it meant tightening too far.

“If we have to err on over-balancing the market a little bit, so be it,” Falih said after meeting Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak in Riyadh, according to Reuters. “Rather than quitting too early and finding out we were dealing with less reliable information ... Stay the course and make sure that inventories are where the industry needs them,” he added.

By Nick Cunningham, Oilprice.com

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  • the masked avenger on February 16 2018 said:
    OPEC will fail. High oil is the end of a good economy.
  • Mamdouh G Salameh on February 16 2018 said:
    And why not? Russia’s cooperation with OPEC has led to the OPEC/non-OPEC production cut agreement credited with rebalancing the global oil market and pushing oil prices towards almost $70/barrel and also putting a $60 floor under oil prices, up from $50 in 2017.

    Russia and Saudi Arabia, the architects of the production cut agreement made it clear that the agreement will go beyond 2018 but in a format that reflects the changing market conditions such as a rebalanced market and rising oil prices. After all, both Russia and OPEC face a major rival: US Shale.

    It looks as if Russia will become a member of OPEC in all but name.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • John Brown on February 16 2018 said:
    Greed. So OPEC/Russia want to ramp up their cartel/control of the worlds oil supply. The reason of course folks is all that stuff a decade ago about peak oil and the world running out of oil that pushed prices to $120 a barrel was all garbage. New technologies that make production cheaper and faster to market have created a revolution which we see the most in the USA with shale oil and gas production.
    OIL and natural gas folks are no longer scarce commodities. So we're back to OPEC/Russia artificially restricting production, idling million of BPD to push prices up. They love $100/$120 plus oil and that's where they want to go. The world should be outraged, but its grown so used to it that everybody just shrugs since artificially high prices harm the worlds poor the most. However, for the USA who cares. The higher the price the higher U.S. production rises, so even as higher prices have a negative effective on many parts of the economy the U.S. also receives huge benefits in jobs and growth in the energy sectors, and that boosts the economy. OPEC/Russia by letting greed push oil prices higher and higher are pumping the U.S. oil industry full of steroids, and also giving a break to renewable energy sources. With prices high the cash is their to continue to race forward with Technology both in recovering oil and renewables, and lower cost further and further. OPEC/Russia through their greedy desire to push oil back to $100 are helping turn the USA into a Global Energy Power House. So thank you!
  • LM on February 16 2018 said:
    "High oil us the end of a good economy"

    It's an interesting statement because in part high oil has led to high inflation and slowing down of economies in the past. But....!

    What is the alternative. Subsides. The simple fact is oil is expensive to extract in most locations including shale basins. Conventional BE varies from $10 in the desert in Saudi to $60 in deep water at today's economics. This doesn't include unconventional which is BE at $40 in the best case in permian to EOR technology oil production in Canada and Vz where costs may well be BE $50/60. By implying oil should be cheap it also implies that governments should pay the producers to explore, develop and distribute expensive oil cheaply so that the economy's don't have to take account of its cost in a meaningful way.

    When I think that we don't complain about the cost of a Latte in Starbucks but we go mad about the price of a gallon of gasolene I have to wonder where psychology comes into all this. A gallon of gasolene paves the way for mobility, which gets us to and from work and school and the park and our holidays in the interior while also enabling our ability to buy a latte as we were able to earn money thanks to our ability to get to work on time etc.

    It's not even a conundrum. Oil is essential to our daily lives but we expect it to have no impact on our cost of living.

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