Oil Price Rises After Trump Phones Putin by Gary Littlejohn for The Saker
The recent rapid decline in oil prices may now be coming to a halt as Trump and Putin agreed in a recent phone call that their oil industry ministers should talk to each other about the oil standoff that began when Russia refused to agree to participate in a cut in oil output proposed by OPEC. This proposed cut was then effectively reversed by Saudi Arabia ‘opening the taps’ to increase its oil output. Russia continued to refuse to cut back, even though the COVID-19 pandemic drastically reduced global demand for hydrocarbon products.
Various oil-producing countries have suffered from this as global storage capacity for oil has rapidly been filled up. For example, Oman may be compelled to sell off its energy companies because it cannot afford to run them at a loss, and Nigeria may have to cease production as it is one of the countries with a very low storage capacity. Yet contrary to long-running media coverage (recently reversed as the present oil price standoff developed) the US shale oil industry is very vulnerable to the refusal of both Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut production in the face of collapsing demand.
There has for about the last three years been a minority voice among US analysts of shale oil production claiming that the ‘sweet spots’(most readily accessible and high production oil fields) in the US Permian Basin had all been played out, such that the debts incurred by the extracting companies were becoming unsustainable. This view was increasingly recognised as being supported by the reluctance of lenders to continue financing such shale oil production on the grounds that the underlying geology indicated that the remaining oil (in proposed new fields) could not be recovered profitably.
In this context many commentators have seen the oil price standoff between Russia and Saudi Arabia as an attempt by one or both to eliminate a vulnerable competitor (shale oil) from the market.
Recent doubling down by Saudi Arabia after Russia claimed that it could withstand a long price-reducing output competition seemed to confirm this:
This seems to be the reason for the phone call from Trump to Putin:
Certainly some analysts have argued that the price competition could lead to a rebound to as much as $60 per barrel if the US shale oil sector were eliminated from the market. This growing chorus included a recent very direct claim from Igor Sechin, the head of oil major Rosneft:
It certainly looks as if there is very little room left for US shale oil to reduce its production costs further, especially when lenders have been increasingly shunning the industry for about the last three years. This has considerable implications for the USA in sustaining its dominant position in the global economy.