Dr. Cyril Widdershoven writes in a recent article at Oilprice.com that the liberalizing reforms and anti-corruption push of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), as well as potential Arab conflict with Iran and its proxies such as Hezbollah, may very well cause a dramatic and sustained increase in oil prices. That is certainly true, but at what cost?
Widdershoven is dismissive of investors around the world who have expressed fears that MBS has “overplayed his hand, causing instability in the country and the region” through his arrest of various prominent Saudi royals and businessmen. Widdershoven goes on to laud MBS for “being unafraid to make dramatic changes to outdated social structures within the kingdom.”
It seems more likely that investors’ fears are well-founded. MBS has made far more enemies than friends among the Saudi establishment through his brash moves. Neither is it clear that Saudi society is destined to keep moving along a trajectory of Western-style reform without significant pushback.
MBS also represents a serious potential liability for the United States. With U.S. support first given by the Obama administration, the Saudis are currently presiding over a blockade of the impoverished country of Yemen in an effort to punish the Houthi rebels who have taken control of much of that country. But, of course, it’s children, the elderly, and the infirm who are bearing the brunt of the imposed shortage of food and medical supplies, and the situation is developing into a politically embarrassing humanitarian disaster.
Likewise, with less than half the population of Iran, the Saudis would likely need U.S. backing to prevail in any prolonged military engagement. After Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, it’s questionable whether at this juncture that’s something that the U.S. would be willing to commit itself to.
The International Energy Agency is overly optimistic about the potential for shale production growth over the next decade, writes Oilprice.com editor James Stafford in an article published on Nov. 16.
Stafford cites a handful of reasons why shale may very well not live up to expectations, first noting the steep decline rates seen with shale as opposed to conventional wells.
“(Shale) drilling is like running on a treadmill—more and more wells need to be drilled just to keep production flat,” Stafford writes. “The extraordinary rate of drilling over the past few years means that the industry not only needs to keep going at that frenzied pace, but it needs to expand its rate of drilling to add more barrels.”
Other reasons shale may underperform, according to Stafford, include the fact that prime locations are given drilling priority, meaning it will be less desirable spots that will be left to drill as time goes on. Shale is also considerably less profitable than generally thought, regardless of where oil prices are at, Stafford claims, adding that the industry is being largely driven by what he calls “loose credit” and investors with unrealistic expectations.
In further support of his argument, Stafford goes on to cite skepticism on shale expressed by investment firm Morgan Stanley and an apparent trend seen among some petroleum companies to scale back drilling in favor of paying down debt, which will have a further negative effect on production growth.
In a recent article published at oilprice.com, petroleum geologist Art Berman modifies his prior conservative stance on the likelihood of continued significant oil prices increases, writing that West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices between $60 and $70 per barrel are almost certain early next year and could very well rise above $70.
Some of the important takeaways from Berman’s article include the following:
• U.S. inventory oversupply is ending due to a combination of increased exports of crude oil and increased domestic consumption.
• Increased oil exportation is the result of an increased price spread between Brent and WTI, allowing U.S. exports to be sold abroad at prices lower than international averages but higher than what they can be sold for domestically. Also, U.S. refineries tend to prefer heavier crudes over WTI.
• Increased consumption primarily from vehicle usage has contributed to the draw down in inventory. It is questionable whether such consumption can continue in the long run as increasing gas prices will discourage consumption by drivers. According to Berman, WTI at $70 a barrel would result in gasoline costing an extra $1 per gallon.
• Higher oil prices are good for oil companies but bad for consumers and can stifle general economic growth both globally and domestically.
• Berman suggests that tight oil plays do not have sufficient reserve potential to meet global supply needs and that will mean more reliance on deep-water projects, which are expensive and have longer development timelines.