Lifting the oil embargo
Santa Claus may have delivered the greatest gift in years to the American oil industry with the recent announcement that the 1975 Nixon embargo against U.S. global oil exports has been totally lifted as part of a year-end bipartisan U.S. budget agreement.
The U.S. energy sector had been in “breakout mode” until Saudi Arabia and its associated allies, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar, combined to go for broke at the November 2014 OPEC Vienna conference to short-circuit America’s supercharged hydraulic fracturing (fracking) outburst that started in 2010. This was reconfirmed at the Dec. 4, 2015 OPEC meeting, which retained Saudi Arabia’s unrestrained production level.
By flooding the market in the last quarter of 2014 to maintain its global market position, this “Gulf Peninsula” group brought prices down from $75 (already a drop of 25% from midyear) to the current $35 a barrel level, which even they did not anticipate. The retention of less than a $50 price level has proven to be unacceptable over a lengthy time period.
While critics of quid pro quo for the embargo lift believe House Speaker Paul Ryan gave away too much of the Democrats’ demands, especially with benefits to America’s energy industry questionable due to the below-cost prices, it’s worth to the lagging energy sector’s future could prove beneficial. That’s because the bulk of American shales’ West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is the highly desirable light condensate variety, which is not readily available worldwide. Nigeria is the only other world-class mass producer and exporter of this variety available in substantial quantity. This makes a bet on higher U.S. export prices reasonable due to the potentially increased demand requirements now met with massively increased U.S. supply.
The reversal of production downsizing that the American nation’s WTI producers have had to undergo in the past year due to the marginal pricing disadvantage should begin to be available within the next 90 to 120 days. The further arguments that this U.S. oil international availability will lead to an even greater price war is negated by the fact the U.S. WTI predominance will find a substantial number of new customers throughout the world. These have shown preference for America’s “light oil” due to the less expensive and simpler refining process necessary for its ultimate conversion to derivatives.
The American Crude Oil Exports Association (PACE), a coalition of 16 independent exploration and production companies, rejoiced at the unexpected announcement of the embargo lifting. PACE commented, “This is a historic moment that will add a new dimension to America’s fast-growing energy sector.” PACE emphasized this “exciting” development will prove to be a launching pad for converting the benefits of nationwide ‘fracking’ and new worldwide export opportunities into an American global energy superpower that will eventually put the U.S. oil industry at the ‘top of the heap’ throughout the world.”