Analysis: What's next for oil and gas prices after Putin-Trump summit?

Daniel Fine
Energy Magazine
In this July 16, 2018, photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland.

The opposition in Congress wants to see a transcript of what President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked about for two hours alone. No doubt some of that time was spent discussing OPEC and the price of oil.

This is above all an issue now for the first time in world petroleum history because Russia has become part of OPEC in the agreement to manage world supply of oil and, indirectly, its price.

OPEC and Russia produce almost half of the supply of world oil. At full capacity, and spare capacity added in, they would be slightly over 50 percent. For now, OPEC plus Russia is the world price-setter for oil.

Shale and tight oil, mainly from the Southwest and North Dakota, along with conventional oil production in the United States, should account for 12 percent later this year if prices stabilize.

This was the reality of talk between Putin and Trump.

Putin, with OPEC, controls the price of world oil. America is not the price-setter: it is the price-taker.

But President Trump is the first U.S. President to take on OPEC. He has said that OPEC prices are “artificial” and as such violate free trade in oil.

This was true under the Obama presidency in 2014 when OPEC, following Saudi Arabia, set out to destroy shale oil producers in America in a price war against high-cost American producers by increasing production at a time of world-wide oversupply. 

Recall, the downturn in the San Juan and Permian basins.

Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have made an energy policy of domination which now includes having an edge in price-setting. They want more oil even if it means lower prices as supply challenges demand.

No doubt, Trump explained this to Putin and inferred that Russia might leave its de facto membership in OPEC.

How would Putin reply, if asked by Trump? His reputation is such that he sees an opening and prompts Trump to consider ending some sanctions against Russia in oil exploration and production. Why not allow Russian oil companies to borrow to finance capital projects in Western banks? Why not re-open Exxon-Mobil Arctic oil joint projects? Is more Russian production of oil another way to lower oil prices at the pump and upend OPEC?

Trump could sense a deal but one which would rattle Republicans back in Washington. His official domestic political opposition no doubt would block any such deal unless Trump is out of office either through impeachment or in 2020.

There is a Congressional process in Washington to place OPEC under American Anti-Trust laws. The Administration would sue the sellers of OPEC oil in U.S courts.

Sounds easy, but similar to 1973 it failed in the embargo crisis by OPEC of oil exports to the United States. Apart from the legal process, how would OPEC oil be treated if it were re-exported from Mexico or Nigeria, for example.

If imports from OPEC-Russia were to stop, American self-sufficiency together with Canadian imports and other non-OPEC producers with slightly higher prices would replace OPEC oil.

Daniel Fine

However, if OPEC itself dissolves there would be individual producers prepared to sell their oil as former members of OPEC. This would resemble a free market in world oil and Trump would have an American First triumph in which the price oil is more likely to be real than artificial, that is, market-derived from free-flowing  supply and demand.

Dr. Daniel Fine is the associate director of New Mexico Tech’s Center for Energy Policy and is the State of New Mexico Natural Gas Export Coordinator. The opinions expressed are his own. Find more columns by Dr. Fine at www-daily-times.com or read Energy Magazine back issues in our Special Publications archive online.