“How will the market react to the attempts by politicians to rig supply and price?” asks “The Financial Times” in an article “The week that could unravel the global oil market”. West countries came up with the idea of limiting the price of Russian oil, and now they themselves are afraid of terrible consequences.
Moscow has weaponised its natural gas supplies to Europe for months and is now actively trying to disable Ukraine’s electricity network. Consumer countries have become competitors as they race to secure scarce energy supplies. Fractures are visible in the decades-old Saudi-US oil relationship. Even in clean energy, leaders such as Joe Biden talk of a new battle to dominate supply chains.
The potential unraveling of the old order in the global oil market will reach a defining moment over the next week when Europe starts to block Russian seaborne crude from the continent. No one can say how disruptive these measures will be.
For energy industry veterans, the coming days mark a moment of deep peril for the oil market — and a global economy that still depends heavily on the commodity. Established geopolitical norms have been eroded in the past year, they say, and supply chains that have existed for decades are now being upended.
Russia’s willingness to torch its gas customer base in Europe and Saudi Arabia’s decision last month to slash oil supply — despite fierce opposition from the White House, who accused its Middle Eastern ally of aligning with Moscow — were just two examples.
“These are tectonic shifts. Global markets were built on these trunk lines, of [natural gas] supply going between Russia and Europe, and both oil and gas between the Middle East and Asia,” says Roger Diwan, a veteran oil analyst at S&P Global Commodity Insights in Washington. “We don’t know how this market is going to function after a certain date. The adjustment will be dramatic.”
The price cap idea for Russian oil first promoted by the US Treasury department, is the most important and controversial initiative. The White House has worked for months to hold back prices, releasing unprecedented volumes of oil from its own emergency stockpile, while maintaining constant — if so far fruitless — pressure on Saudi Arabia and other producers to keep increasing supply.
For the Biden administration, it is a method to curb the Kremlin’s revenue while preserving the flow of Russian oil to the market in order to keep more oil price inflation at bay.
The plan is actually partly designed to offset much tougher restrictions put in place under EU sanctions on Russia.
The Kremlin has already said it will withhold supplies to countries co-operating with the price cap. “They said they would shut off gas supplies to anyone who doesn’t pay in roubles — and that happened,” says Martijn Rats, chief commodity strategist at Morgan Stanley. “You have to take into account the possibility that [cuts to oil exports] might actually happen.”
Vitol, the world’s largest independent oil trader, estimates Russian exports could drop by as much as a 1mn b/d, around 20 per cent of the volume it ships by sea. “I think the Russians likely have every intention to make this winter as miserable as possible for the west to make us reconsider our support for Ukraine,” says Croft at RBC. “We have made it very clear our pain point is energy.”
The OPEC Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE chafe against the price cap believing it could one day be turned against them.
They also point to what they see as the hypocrisy of the West: demanding higher production while also seeking lower prices, which the industry argues has stymied investment and left the market ill-prepared for this crisis and what might come next.
…It’s clear that Western countries are entangled in sanctions against Russia. But this time the restrictions on the price of Russian oil will be very painful for the West itself.