Saudi Arabia Seeks Control of Global Oil Market
When Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader and most influential member, decided at its latest meeting in Vienna to break its recent strategic oil partnership with Russia and adopt a new policy to maximize production levels, oil prices crashed — posting their biggest slide since the Gulf war in 1991.
But even more importantly, this new policy recalibrated global oil markets, giving Saudi Arabia the long-term advantage. This move marks a big change for the world’s largest oil exporter, which has in recent years attempted to manage the global oil markets by altering production levels, while garnering the difficult cooperation of Russia. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has finally decided to pursue a long-term policy that not only preserves and ultimately increases the kingdom’s market share, but also may signal the end of OPEC as a united functioning organization.
This decision is very unpopular with most oil exporting countries, international energy companies and American shale producers because collapsing prices will drastically decrease their revenues and, in some cases, force them into bankruptcy.
There are several reasons why the kingdom is finally taking this aggressive approach.
First, the successive Saudi monarchs have all recognized the strategic importance of spare production capacity to manage the global markets because it provides the vital indicator of the world’s oil market’s ability to respond to sudden crises that jeopardize the free flow of oil supplies.
Saudi Aramco, the state’s gargantuan oil and gas company, spent over $35 billion since 2012 to maintain a 12 million barrels-per-day sustained production capacity with a 1.5 to 2 million barrels-per-day spare capacity cushion that can be called upon at short notice. And that’s exactly what the Saudis will be doing over the next several weeks. Saudi Aramco is expected to be pumping a staggering 12 million barrels per day by April 1, 2020, with exports reaching between 9.5 to 10 million barrels per day.
On April 1 or shortly thereafter, Saudi Arabia will most likely surpass Russia to become the world’s second largest producer. But this oil price war won’t end until Saudi Arabia takes back the global production crown from the United States, which should happen within the next two years.