Saudi Arabia, one of the founders of OPEC, is sounding the group’s death knell.
The world’s biggest crude exporter has already undermined OPEC’s traditional role of managing supply, instead choosing to boost output to snatch market share from higher-cost producers, particularly U.S. shale drillers, and crashing prices in the process.
Now, under the economic plan known as Vision 2030 promoted by the king’s powerful son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the government is signaling it wants to wean the kingdom’s economy off oil revenue, lessening the need to manage prices. Moreover, the planned privatization of Saudi Arabian Oil Co. will make the nation the only member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries without full ownership of its national oil company.
“The main take-away from Saudi Vision 2030 is that there’s just no role for OPEC,” Seth Kleinman, head of European energy research at Citigroup Inc. in London, said by phone on May 16. “Or, you can have an OPEC without Saudi Arabia, which just isn’t much of an OPEC.”
The first change of oil ministers in more than 20 years may also recast the country’s relationship with OPEC. The group’s 13 members, which contribute about 40 percent of the world’s supply, gather in Vienna on June 2.
King Salman on May 7 replaced Ali al-Naimi, the most influential voice in OPEC and the architect of current Saudi oil policy. While there’s likely to be considerable continuity, his replacement, Khalid Al-Falih, is an ally of Prince Mohammed, who scuppered a plan al-Naimi had supported for capping production. When producers considered freezing output to curb a global glut in April, the young royal’s view that no deal was possible without Iran prevailed, and talks collapsed.
“We don’t care about oil prices,” Prince Mohammed said in an April 25 interview in Riyadh. “$30 or $70, they are all the same to us. We have our own programs that don’t need high oil prices.” Benchmark Brent crude was trading at $48.11 a barrel on Tuesday at 11:23 a.m. in London.
OPEC will not be missed. Cartels are power arrangements for maximising profits at everyone else’s expense.
Oil prices will remain volatile but the current surplus of supply will prevent the strong recovery that some commentators have forecast. Even as the global economy eventually recovers and the record amounts of crude in storage are gradually reduced by consumption, the advance of technology has enabled more conventional oil to be produced than was imaginable less than a decade ago. Supplies may be finite but there are also vast quantities of shale oil, largely untouched.
Meanwhile, technology will continue to hasten declines in costs for renewable forms of energy, led by solar. Most countries now have the capacity to lower their energy costs. However, energy prices paid by business and consumers will vary considerably among nations, subject to their willingness to utilise all forms of available energy, plus their individual taxation policies on these vital resources.
(See also: OPEC Brings Oil Price War Home in Pursuit of Asia Cash - Oct 20, 2015)Back to top