The oil shock of 2020 appears to be here – and the pain could be wide and deep


The world is going through an oil shock again.

Prices, which are already on a downtrend, have collapsed 30% in less than a week, bringing the total decline to Nearly 50% Since the highest levels in early January. Consumers can of course Expect a drop in gasoline pricesBut the story is much more complicated than that.

We take I searched for energy for decadesI see this as a big problem, not only for the global economy, but for geopolitics, the future of transportation and efforts to mitigate climate change, especially if the world enters into a sustainable period of cheap oil.

what happened?

Oil prices have been forced to decline due to the major influences from the supply and demand side.

Demand for crude oil and petroleum fuels It has fallen all over the world Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is nowhere more Than in China. Millions of people shut down, shutting down factories, cutting supply chains, and reducing transportation at home and abroad by trade. This is the key, because China is the world The largest importer of oil It is a major driver of global demand. Global slowdown in Demand from transportation, Not less In air travel, Has eroded demand further.

On the supply side, a turbulent partnership between OPEC and Russia has turned into Bitter breakup. The resulting market share war flooded the world with oil.

OPEC and Russia They first met in 2016 To cut production and raise prices against a river New oil from shale drilling in the United States It worked somewhat – prices actually went up, despite being in Fickle fashion.

But at a meeting on March 6 for the Saudis Suggestion Another cut to meet silent demand from the impact of the Coronavirus on the economy. Russia said it would Raised production insteadThe Saudis responded by saying that they would, too. A few days later, the UAE said it would, too Increasing production to record levels And accelerate plans to increase capacity.

Russia’s motives It seems clear. Suffering from sanctions over its takeover of Crimea, Russia kept its production relatively low for years based on an offer from Saudi Arabia, allowing US shale oil producers to gain market share at the expense of Russian companies.

There is no doubt that American oil companies are Especially weak at the moment. Many have worked along the frontiers of profitability and are still mired in debt. As demand falls, the additional downward pressure on prices should cause real pain to the plains of Texas, North Dakota and Ohio. Nevertheless, I expect American producers to continue as they did before – through consolidation, finding ways to cut costs, increase efficiency and innovation.

Oil floods

Russia’s calculations about its ability to gain market share against shale oil companies by increasing production were likely accurate, but they likely did not include the Saudi-Emirati response. Russian officials said companies likely could Raise production About 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day in the short term, with The Kremlin claims 500,000 barrels per day later in 2020. My own estimates suggest that, together, the Saudis and Emiratis could increase flows by as much as 3.5 million barrels per day – perhaps ten times the Russian size – over the remainder of this year, by about 2 million barrels in the short term.

Even without any of these increases, there was already a glut of oil globally. According to the International Energy Agency Oil Market Report for March 2020Lower demand and higher shale oil production could have increased supply in the global market by more than 3 million barrels per day unless OPEC made major cuts. This surplus now appears modest compared to what the year appears to be achieving.

Wide and profound global influences

History may not repeat itself, but it does offer similarities. at 1986 The Saudis opened the taps Against the rise in production from the North Sea and, most importantly, the Soviet Union. The result was a generation of cheap oil that lasted until China’s demand Prices were forced higher starting in 2004. During this era Low oil prices, The United States has had little development of alternative energy sources; Consumption increased a Reduced fuel economy; Opinion The dash of an SUV; And the growth of oil imports to the United States and that period also witnessed an American military intervention in the Middle East.

Could all this happen again? No, and the price trend, of course, can change course. But the era of extremely low prices, say as little as $ 40 a barrel as it now exists, would bring new negatives, and perhaps even more worrying.

like what? This is of course guesswork, but I can imagine the following trends emerging:

  • Significant economic damage to oil-producing countries outside of OPEC and Russia, including Argentina, Brazil, Guyana, Ivory Coast, Malaysia, Indonesia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

  • Significant economic and possibly social imbalance in countries with fragile democracies, such as Iraq, Algeria, Nigeria and Gabon. Iraq is of particular concern, given its partial exit from war and insurgency.

  • Bankruptcy, unemployment, rural disintegration, high drug abuse, and “deaths of despair” are most likely in the US states where the oil boom is active, such as Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Alaska, Ohio, among others.

  • Ultra-cheap carbon fuels may shift public interest and incentives for vehicle manufacturers away from fuel economy and efficiency, including non-transportation-related uses.

  • Cheap fuel could become a potential obstacle to all-electric transportation, which is now going through a critical period, as major car and truck manufacturers are emerging. Complete electric vehicle lines Until 2025.

  • Significant decline in the value of recyclable plastics as the manufacture of new plastics becomes cheaper than the cost of recycling.

  • More importance is the government’s policy to drive the work on reducing emissions, and therefore on the policy, which has not yet proven reliable in this area.

  • Low-priced oil could become particularly attractive for less developed countries (transport, power generation, and heating) that are now undergoing energy modernization and lack income.

Cheap gas isn’t everything

The current shock is far from over at this writing, and more big changes may await. What can be said with certainty is that the effects of cheap, big oil are bound to be varied and, in some ways, subtle. But it is unlikely to be useful. Yes, there will be some perks for consumers if fuel prices are low for more than a few months. Food and heating oil, for example, will be much cheaper.

But very cheap oil is not a friend of the world. There are many reasons to move away from petroleum for fuel. I’ve only suggested some in the list above. To say the least, such a move would be a huge undertaking. Another era when oil is more affordable for everyone than bottled water will not help her.

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