Just a couple months ago, some were declaring the old oil order dead
after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) failed to
agree on coordinated action at its April meeting in Doha.
That meeting was meant to bring about a production freeze to arrest the downward spiral of prices that began in July 2014. Instead, the Doha meeting was over before it began. Iran refused to slow production until it had regained its pre-sanctions position in the market, so Saudi Arabia canceled the freeze and continued to produce at peak levels.
This week, with oil trading at six-month highs, OPEC members once again had high hopes to show that the organization remains relevant as they gathered in Vienna. Yet, once again, the meeting ended without agreement, resulting in no change to the current policy of essentially unlimited production.
So does the verdict that OPEC is dead still stand, signaling the end of an era in which it supposedly ruthlessly controlled the price of oil? In fact, that era barely existed in the first place. The failed meetings confirm a longstanding truth: the world's most famous cartel has never really been a cartel.Rather than the arbiter of global energy, OPEC is and has always been a dysfunctional, divided and discouraged organization.
My recent research has taken me through the history of oil, particularly the relationship between oil revenues, economic development and the geopolitical balance of power in the 1960s and 1970s. Oil's history has been dominated by a struggle for balance, a contest between competing interests, both economic and political, and between the fundamental market forces of supply and demand.
OPEC has never been shielded from or been able to fully thwart these forces.
Early days: divided and powerless
When it was created in 1960, OPEC was meant to offer members a greater say in how their oil was produced and priced, addressing the disproportionate power wielded by private Western corporations. Its larger goal, to bring order to the chaotic world of global energy, has always been elusive.
OPEC was formed from frustration. In the 1950s, the world was awash in oil as small nations in the Middle East and Latin America discovered enormous deposits, and Western oil companies sought to tap them to meet rising demand.
To gain access to those deposits, the major oil companies (known as the 'Seven Sisters') signed concessionary agreements with local governments, allowing them to pump, refine, transport and market a nation's oil in return for a royalty, typically 50 percent of profits.
This arrangement gave the companies control over the oil - they set production levels and prices - while governments simply collected a check and had little influence on anything else.
In February 1959, amid an oil glut, the Seven Sisters decided that a price correction was necessary. And so they unilaterally began cutting the posted price, from $2.08 to $1.80 by August 1960. (Back then, oil prices didn't always follow market forces and were typically set by producers.)
The cuts meant a significant loss of revenue for the oil-producing states. In protest, the oil ministers of Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait met in Baghdad that September and formed OPEC to achieve a more equitable arrangement with the Sisters.
In reality, the oil-producing states could do little to coerce the companies into offering better terms. The Seven Sisters dominated global markets and were capable of shutting out individual producers. Oil was abundant, and nationalization seemed out of the question because the companies could successfully exclude an offending country from the market, as they did with Iran in 1951.
In addition, the United States itself was the world's top producer and immune from supply shocks thanks to import quotas.. If OPEC threatened to take production offline in order to put pressure on the companies, the U.S. could increase its own to make up the difference, as it did during a partial Arab oil boycott in 1967.
In the end, OPEC did not possess enough market share to make a meaningful impact.
A new balance of power
Besides being relatively impotent, OPEC couldn't agree on a consistent policy among its members. Saudi Arabia wanted to keep production levels low and prices consistent, preserving the global economy and the political status quo. Iran and Iraq, with huge military and development budgets, wanted prices pushed as high as possible in order to maximize revenue.
According to scholar and oil consultant Ian Skeet, an attempt to extract more favorable terms from the Sisters in 1963 was sabotaged by the shah of Iran, who sought a separate agreement.
During the 1960s, OPEC met, debated and released grandiose statements on their rights, yet failed to form a united front.
Nevertheless, significant changes were occurring at the time. Demand for oil shot up, while production in the U.S. stagnated. The ability of the Seven Sisters to control the market was undermined by international competitors drilling new fields in North Africa, where Libya's Muammar Qaddafi threatened to shut off supply if he didn't get higher prices.
The companies were under more and more pressure to deliver satisfactory terms to the OPEC members. The price of oil, which had held steady at $1.80 a barrel for years, began ticking upwards. American import quotas ended, leaving the U.S. more vulnerable to supply shocks as its production capacity steadily declined.
These conditions, while not the result of actions by OPEC, gave the organization an opportunity to influence the market and upset the balance of power.
The oil price revolution
This shift accelerated in the 1970s as war broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors, creating an opportunity for OPEC to wrest control from the Western oil companies.
To punish the U.S. for supporting the Jewish state, Arab oil producers (not OPEC, as popularly believed) cut production and declared an embargo. Together with the war, this destabilized energy markets as demand outpaced supply.
Amid the fighting, OPEC met with the Seven Sisters in Geneva and demanded an increase in the posted oil price. After rejecting a small change, OPEC announced it would double the price to $5 and later doubled it again to $11.65.
This triggered a massive shift in economic power, what Stanford University professor Steven Schneidercalled 'the greatest non-violent transfer of wealth in human history.' With the uptick in oil revenues, OPEC states spent lavishly on economic development, social programs and investments in Western industry and steadily nationalized their domestic industries, pushing out the Seven Sisters.
How did the balance of power seem to shift so suddenly? Among other reasons, the major oil companies could not agree among themselves on a new price and were actually tempted by the high profits that would result. In other words, OPEC had seized control of the oil market largely due to circumstancesbeyond its control.
The oil crisis
Despite its victory, OPEC had come no closer to resolving its internal divisions. This became evident when another energy crisis hit.
In January 1979, the shah of Iran fled amid revolution, and global oil markets panicked. Prices soared, from $12.70 to over $30 by 1980. Iran's 6 million barrels per day (bpd) disappeared, and other OPEC states eagerly seized the opportunity to sell oil at costly premiums, sending the price even higher.
In the ensuing years, Saudi Arabia tried to impose a quota system, with overall production capped at 20 million bpd. Most members ignored their quotas or over-produced to gain greater revenue.
Meanwhile, the West worked to improve energy efficiency and invested heavily in non-OPEC oil sources, including Alaska, Canada and the North Sea. By 1985, OPEC's market share had fallen below 30 percent. OPEC dropped its production quota to 19 million bpd, then 17 million, to account for diminishing demand, but only the Saudis obeyed the rules, losing market share as other producers pumped above the quota level.
By 1986, the Saudis had had enough. Without warning, the Saudi oil minister announced that Saudi production would increase. Overnight, Saudi production shot up more than 2 million bpd, flooding the market and sending prices plunging below $10 a barrel. Sick of watching other OPEC members cheat them out of profits, the Saudis chose to enforce new discipline through an artificial market shock.
Just as the kingdom did in 2014, this move indicated Saudi willingness to use its massive reserves to 'correct' the market and push out high-cost producers, even at the cost of its OPEC allies.
Feeling the pain
OPEC's fortunes have oscillated since the 1986 shock. Cooperation remained elusive.
A 2011 meeting, dubbed 'the worst ever' by recently-removed Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi, produced disagreements over production levels. Acrimony reigned as OPEC states ignored calls for economic diversification in favor of oil-fueled economic growth.
High prices during the early 2000s accounted for a huge boom in oil revenues for OPEC members. ForVenezuela and Nigeria, oil accounts for over 90 percent of all exports. Most OPEC states believed that high demand would last forever, that high prices could fund government programs and that the good times would never end.
Yet the good times appear to be over. OPEC has failed to control the downward spiral in prices, reportedly begun by Saudi Arabia in November 2014 to flood the market with cheap crude to put new and old competitors - U.S. shale producers and Iran - out of business. Saudi Arabia pursued its political interests and existing market share, leaving other OPEC members to fend for themselves.
The death of OPEC has been announced in some quarters, with its long-term decline seemingly assured as global energy enters a new era.
It is possible that Saudi Arabia may emerge from this current crisis unscathed, free to embark upon its recently announced Vision 2030 plan for an 'oil-less' economy, however dubious that plan might appear. It's possible that OPEC may succeed in concerted action in the future. But its recent failures suggest that political interest will be more likely to divide OPEC and prevent mutual self-interest from uniting its members.
Gregory Brew - PhD Student in History, Energy and Foreign Relations, Georgetown University
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Pioneering technology expert tells ADIPEC Energy Dialogue up to 80 per cent of plant shutdowns could be mitigated through combination of advanced electrification, automation and digitalisation technologies
Greater use of renewables in power management processes offers oil and gas companies opportunities to create efficiencies, sustainability and affordability when modernising equipment, or planning new CAPEX projects
Abu Dhabi, UAE – XX August 2020 – Leveraging the synergies created by the convergence of electrification, automation and digitalisation, can create significant cost savings for oil and gas companies when making both operational and capital investment decisions, according to Dr Peter Terwiesch, President of Industrial Automation at ABB, a Swiss-Swedish multinational company, operating mainly in robotics, power, heavy electrical equipment, and automation technology areas.
Participating in the latest ADIPEC Energy Dialogue, Dr Terwiesch said up to 80 per cent of energy industry plant shutdowns, caused by human error, or rotating machinery or power outages, could be mitigated through a combination of electrification, automation and digitalisation.
“Savings are clearly possible not only on the operation side but also, using the same synergies between dimensions, you can bring down the cost schedule and risk of capital investment, especially in a time when making projects work economically is harder,” explained Dr Terwiesch.
A pioneering technology leader, who works closely with utility, industry, transportation and infrastructure customers, Dr Terwiesch said despite the increasing investment by oil and gas companies in renewables and the growing use of renewables to generate electricity, both for individual and industrial uses, hydrocarbons will continue to have an important role in creating energy, in the short to medium term.
“If you look at the energy density constraints, clearly electricity is gaining share but electricity is not the source of energy; it is a conduit of energy. The energy has to come from somewhere and that can be hydrocarbons, or nuclear, or renewables.” he said.
Nevertheless, he added, the greater use of renewables to generate electricity offers oil and gas companies the option of integrating a higher share of renewables into power management processes to create efficiencies, sustainability and affordability when modernising equipment, or planning new CAPEX projects.
The ADIPEC Energy Dialogue is a series of online thought leadership events created by dmg events, organisers of the annual Abu Dhabi International Exhibition and Conference. Featuring key stakeholders and decision-makers in the oil and gas industry, the dialogues focus on how the industry is evolving and transforming in response to the rapidly changing energy market.
With this year’s in person ADIPEC exhibition and conference postponed to November 2021, the ADIPEC Energy Dialogue, along with insightful webinars, podcasts and on line panels continue to connect the oil and gas industry, with the challenges and opportunities shaping energy markets in the run up to, and following, a planned three-day live stream virtual ADIPEC conference taking place from November 9-11.
An industry first of its kind, the online conference will bring together energy leaders, ministers and global oil and gas CEOs to assess the collective measures the industry needs to put in place to fast-track recovery, post COVID-19.
To watch the full ADIPEC Energy Dialogue series go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZzUd32n3_s&t=6s
Utility-scale battery storage systems are increasingly being installed in the United States. In 2010, the United States had seven operational battery storage systems, which accounted for 59 megawatts (MW) of power capacity (the maximum amount of power output a battery can provide in any instant) and 21 megawatthours (MWh) of energy capacity (the total amount of energy that can be stored or discharged by a battery). By the end of 2018, the United States had 125 operational battery storage systems, providing a total of 869 MW of installed power capacity and 1,236 MWh of energy capacity.
Battery storage systems store electricity produced by generators or pulled directly from the electrical grid, and they redistribute the power later as needed. These systems have a wide variety of applications, including integrating renewables into the grid, peak shaving, frequency regulation, and providing backup power.
Most utility-scale battery storage capacity is installed in regions covered by independent system operators (ISOs) or regional transmission organizations (RTOs). Historically, most battery systems are in the PJM Interconnection (PJM), which manages the power grid in 13 eastern and Midwestern states as well as the District of Columbia, and in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). Together, PJM and CAISO accounted for 55% of the total battery storage power capacity built between 2010 and 2018. However, in 2018, more than 58% (130 MW) of new storage power capacity additions, representing 69% (337 MWh) of energy capacity additions, were installed in states outside of those areas.
In 2018, many regions outside of CAISO and PJM began adding greater amounts of battery storage capacity to their power grids, including Alaska and Hawaii, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). Many of the additions were the result of procurement requirements, financial incentives, and long-term planning mechanisms that promote the use of energy storage in the respective states. Alaska and Hawaii, which have isolated power grids, are expanding battery storage capacity to increase grid reliability and reduce dependence on expensive fossil fuel imports.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860, Annual Electric Generator Report
Note: The cost range represents cost data elements from the 25th to 75th percentiles for each year of reported cost data.
Average costs per unit of energy capacity decreased 61% between 2015 and 2017, dropping from $2,153 per kilowatthour (kWh) to $834 per kWh. The large decrease in cost makes battery storage more economical, helping accelerate capacity growth. Affordable battery storage also plays an important role in the continued integration of storage with intermittent renewable electricity sources such as wind and solar.
Additional information on these topics is available in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) recently updated Battery Storage in the United States: An Update on Market Trends. This report explores trends in battery storage capacity additions and describes the current state of the market, including information on applications, cost, market and policy drivers, and future project developments.