A measure lifting the crude oil export ban was approved by Congress in December. OPEC and Saudi Aramco entered the price war against American high-cost shale production in September 2014. This war has consisted of counter strike or retaliation options from the beginning.
Consequently, the congressional “deal” lowered the Brent and WPI price of oil by 6 percent in December. Advocates of lifting the crude oil ban were silent or indifferent. Where are they now?
At least 60,000 barrels were sold to a Swiss trading company by one of the advocate oil producers. We must wait for a first quarter report for details on the pricing and impact to cash flow. Simply put, was the money spent on studies and lobbyists profitable? Highly unlikely.
The year 2016 has opened with both Brent and WPI prices in virtual convergence at 2008 trading lows. OPEC does not expect recovery oil prices (2010-2014 levels) until 2040 which almost coincides with the Paris objectives of reducing fossil fuels. Meanwhile, the San Juan Basin is active with forced asset sales.
The big energy banks will face stress tests soon which explore price scenarios in relation to oil trading positions and loans to oil and gas producers. Smaller banks, the traditional source of small oil explorers and producers credit will face more severe determinations of debt.
The OPEC price war for market share continues. Some $200 billion of capital expenditure among the shale or light tight oil American producers has been lost. There is still weak demand, oversupply, and Chinese reset on buying commodities, including oil, leading from super-boom to deflation.
Will geopolitics revive prices? Yes, but only on episodic and short-term speculative thrusts in financial market trading.
This could offer producers hedging opportunities if they are quick on the trigger. Are Iranian or Saudi supported militias or Islamic State representatives prepared to destroy Gulf states’ oil capacity? Highly unlikely.
Even among the best managed oil producers, 2016 will be troublesome, but 2017 is the year of reckoning. No cash flow from future sales as hedges can be expected.
The price war for market share could ease with OPEC having reversed the unconventional shale oil American technology revolution.
If so, the San Juan Basin oil boom promise will be “bust” history for this cycle. No matter which party or candidate wins a majority, Washington, D.C., should not be expected to resist the market and its oil price setting. Perhaps, this is the best option after the Washington, D.C., deal last month.
A costly lesson learned.
Article written by HEI contributor Daniel Fine, associate director, New Mexico Center for Energy Policy at New Mexico Tech, and project leader of the Energy Policy, state of New Mexico, Department of Energy Minerals and Natural Resources. The opinions he expresses in this column are his own.