Understanding the Oil War between Russia and Saudi Arabia, Oil WarOver the past six years, domestic crude oil has experienced a volatile ride. 2014 saw the emergence of American shale as producers were attracted to the $114 price levels. However, in 2016 the price for a barrel eventually fell to $27 as a global supply glut developed. 2016 also saw Russia and Saudi Arabia form an oil pact that drew together Russia and OPEC, leading to the so-called OPEC+ to navigate the global oil market. This agreement would eventually culminate into the current crude oil tensions that exist between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Through the early 2000s – up until the financial crisis of 2008 – increasing global demand accounted for the rising price per barrel of oil. After reaching a high of $147.27 the week of July 7, 2008, the financial crisis’ effects brought the price of West Texas Intermediate Crude down to a low of $32.98 in December of 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. However, with the economy recovering through 2009, the price of WTI crude oil rose to the high $70s and low $80s.

After the world emerged from the financial crisis, world oil markets were rocked by geopolitical tensions from the political revolution in Egypt during January 2011, spiking the price of crude oil to $100 a barrel. Prices stayed in the $90 to $100 per barrel range, until the end of 2014. With increased production in North America, reduced demand from emerging economies and increased storage of crude worldwide, the price per barrel of crude oil in 2016 traded in the low $30s per barrel. The price of oil fell because Saudi Arabia attempted to flood the world market with excess oil to lower the per-barrel price to bankrupt the emerging U.S. frackers.   

In reaction to the low oil prices, OPEC and its non-OPEC oil-producing countries agreed to reduce their total output by 1.8 million barrels in December 2016, taking effect in January 2017. After OPEC reversed itself and increased output in June 2018, it again cut output for 2019. The price of WTI rose to the mid-$70s by October 2018, which can also be attributed to a drop in Venezuela’s oil production, and the re-introduction and increase in severity of sanctions against Iran.

A November 2018 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) relayed that the U.S. produced 11.3 million barrels in August 2018. With the report’s news, additional Russian oil production and even some OPEC countries producing more, it brought WTI down to $51 per barrel. Fast forward to March 2020, with the coronavirus sending shockwaves and diminishing demand, oil prices fell.

This led to a meeting in Vienna on March 5 for OPEC and its (+) or other major oil-producing companies throughout the world to discuss production cuts in hopes of increasing the price of oil. During this meeting, OPEC and its (+) members discussed whether to reduce production by 1.5 million barrels a day through the end of June 2020. OPEC asked Russia and those (+) members to cooperate with the production cuts. However, on March 6, Russia did not agree to reduce oil production. This immediately dropped the price of oil by 10 percent.

With the coronavirus pandemic beginning at the end of 2019, manufacturing and transportation decreased, reducing the global thirst for oil. Based on these events, the International Energy Association (IEA) announced in the middle of February that global consumption would fall to 825,000 barrels per day.

Russia said that reducing production was premature because it was and still is uncertain of how the coronavirus will affect global oil prices. Additionally, they cited political instability in Libya, where approximately one million barrels per day were expected to be offline from production.

In light of the unknown extent of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on oil demand, Russia and its oil producers reportedly offered to maintain the existing 1.7 million barrels per day cut for the next three months that OPEC+ already had in place. However, OPEC didn’t agree to this offer.

Beginning on March 8, Saudi Arabia gave crude oil buyers discounts of between $6 and $8 per barrel to European, Asian and American buyers. This set a downward cascade of the price of oil, lowering Brent Crude by 30 percent and West Texas Intermediate by 20 percent.

Starting March 9, the drop in oil prices coupled with the global coronavirus pandemic exerted a major impact on world markets. Russia’s ruble dropped by 7 percent shortly thereafter. While the price of oil recovered a little after the impact, it set off a production war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Beginning March 10, Russia began pumping an additional 300,000 barrels per day, and Saudi Arabia ramped up its production to 12.3 million barrels per day, up from 9.7 million.

Impact on Markets

These two factors led the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop more than 1,300 points in pre-market trading on March 9, with the DOW ultimately falling 2,000 points during intraday trading. Along with NASDAQ falling by nearly 7 percent and the S&P 500 dropping more than 7 percent, global markets fared worse. This was evidenced by the Italian FTSE MIB Index losing more than 11 percent. 

Producer Implications

When it comes to how the crude oil war is impacting shale producers in North America, it’s important to note that prices of $40 per barrel must be sustained to keep producers afloat, according to consultant Enverus. However, production cuts are imminent at the bottom of the $30 a barrel price point, and there’s certainly no expectations of new oilfield development.

Based upon forecasts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, May 2020 U.S. production of crude oil is expected to drop from 13.2 million barrels per day to 12.8 million barrels per day by December, finally leveling off to 12.7 million barrels per day in 2021.   

Much like the volatility going on with the coronavirus pandemic, global markets are also expecting further volatility for the world’s energy market.


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