Sunday, October 5, 2014

Is Saudi Arabia preparing to collapse the global petroleum market?

It is widely acknowledged that the US economic recovery post 2008, such as it is, has largely been driven by the boom in shale oil exploration and production.

A variety of analysts from across the political spectrum have speculated that shale oil can break America's dependence on her sketchy allies in the Middle East. If we no longer are dependent on ME oil, the thinking goes, we will be free of the political influence of the Saudis and the GCC.

Under normal conditions, Saudi Arabia in its role as the world's leading oil producer, actively intervenes in the market to keep prices high, to maximize its income. Ironically, it has been sustained high prices that have made the Bakken boom and other shale oil plays possible.

There are indications that the Saudis are prepared to see a significant decrease in their oil revenues in the short to medium term. They can afford to pump oil out of Ghawar almost indefinitely at a price well below the break-even of any shale oil produced in America. That would destroy America's shale oil boom in a matter of months, and do untold damage to an already struggling economy.

Even if the Saudis eventually allow prices to float up again after that mission is accomplished, the infrastructure of the shale boom could not be re-activated overnight. Furthermore, a substantial shut-down of shale production would allow the opponents of fracking to regroup and consolidate their efforts.

The political reality of shale production is that it becomes more of a wedge issue as time goes on. Most Americans aren't prepared to sacrifice the drinking water of future generations to a short-lived shale bonanza, and on this issue time is on the side of anti-fracking activists, not the industry.

All of America's allies in the Arab world are fundamentally anti-democratic and depend on American support to cling to power. The prospect of being cut loose by an energy self-sufficient US is their worst nightmare. They have a vested interest in America's continued dependence on their oil and the vast market they provide for America's only viable export product; weapons.

Seen in the context of other developments unfolding in the region at this time, oil could be another weapon, alongside ISIS, that America's Arab allies could use to manipulate American policy in their favor.

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