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The Quest For Balance In Oil


Opening the proverbial Pandora’s box as OPEC did at the end of 2014, may be recorded by historians as one of the most foolhardy attempts by a cartel to eradicate a challenger. But such was the case with OPEC choosing to flood the global economy with more oil than it could process. The attempt to shakedown no-OPEC shale production from the US and heavy Canadian oil may have, at first glance, shown signs of success, but it came at a more direct cost to vulnerable members of the cartel, most notably, Venezuela.

In hindsight, the calculus assumed that with an artificially induced glut of oil, prices would collapse, leaving new and more costly methods of shale production financially ruined. To a certain extent, this may have occurred as the number of rigs were halved as oil bottomed out a little over a year after OPEC began to flood the market, at $26 a barrel in January 2016. However, its total impact on the wider U.S. economy was negligible and prompted two unintended consequences; a reduction in capital expenditures and investments in OPEC nation oil plays, affecting the viability of depleting wells and sapping oil-reliant countries, whose national finances depended to a large extent on oil receipts, from critical revenue streams. As it turned out, the move did more harm to OPEC member countries, than to their collective nemesis, whose economy was far more diversified and technologically resilient.

The reversal of this act of folly is now in full deployment with OPEC and some non-OPEC nations, now in full retreat searching for the seemingly elusive quest for global oil balance.

From an overhang of almost 2 million barrels a day in overproduction, a combination of higher world demand for crude and a higher level of compliance and discipline in cuts by members seems to be working, all the while US shale producers, reach production heights of over 10.2 million barrels a day, for the first time in 48 years.

Though refinery spring maintenance in the U.S. can explain oil inventories rising for three straight weeks, some like Platt’s suggest inventories remain bloated and stand at 28% above the same time in 2014. This contrasts with the International Energy Agency (IEA) which pointed out in their recent market report that the overhang in oil supplies among the globe’s major industrial economies was at the point of near-balance. Nevertheless, the consensus appears to be leaning towards the notion that the spectacular rise in U.S. shale production and growing output from other non-OPEC countries like Canada may prevent attaining a global oil balance, with supply growth outpacing demand, frustrating any hope that oil can reach $70 a barrel anytime soon.

If $60 dollars makes most producers efforts profitable, look to that value remaining for the next year or beyond. As for pump prices, that’s an entirely different matter. Refinery economics are not the same as oil and are set to increase overall in 2018.

Senior Petroleum Analyst, Canada

Dan is a skilled and noted bilingual (French and English) consumer advocate specializing in energy and current affairs. Known as Canada's “Gas Guru,” he founded to better help motorists anticipate the price of gasoline in advance across Canada. He has over three decades of experience in the petroleum industry, as a parliamentarian and an analyst.