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Saudi Arabia uses low oil prices to force US to cut shale production, but damage to all countries may prompt talks

Saudi Arabia uses low oil prices to force US to cut shale production, but damage to all countries may prompt talks
A fall in oil prices intensified by Saudi Arabia’s actions has dealt a deadly blow to US shale oil companies, but “counterproductive” measures that harm all oil producers may force Riyadh, Washington and Moscow to finally talk.

The so-called ‘Shale Revolution’ in the US in recent years has deprived the Saudis of a huge chunk of the American oil market, but Riyadh is now using the coronavirus crisis to win back its lost position.

After failing to find common ground with Russia on how to respond to the pandemic, Saudi Arabia began pumping oil at such an intense rate that the prices saw the sharpest drop, unseen since the Gulf War in 1991.

The Saudi move delivered a devastating blow to the shale companies in America because “when the prices are low the production of shale oil becomes unprofitable” due to it being a more complex and costly process, Konstantin Dudarev, a Middle East expert and a specialist in Arabic studies, explained.

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“As a partner of the US, which strongly depends on the Americans in many ways, Saudi Arabia can’t bluntly state that its main goal is fighting the US shale companies. But I can’t rule out that bankrupting those shale companies is their goal,” he added.

Riyadh also has no intention of using the situation it created to buy into a chunk of the US shale market – it wants those companies completely out of the picture for the production of oil to reduce in America and make Washington long for Saudi supplies once again, Dudarev pointed out.

Saudi Arabia’s push to remove US shale oil producers from the market is “counterproductive and revealing of the low professional level” of those behind it, Andrey Baklanov, deputy head of the Russian Diplomatic Association and the country’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said. With Covid-19 killing more than 60,000 and infecting over 1.1 million people around the globe and devastating economies, negotiations seem like a much better measure than waging price wars.

Dudarev expressed the belief that “an international coalition with a unified stance on oil of Saudi Arabia, the US and Russia is quite possible” as each one would benefit from it. 

“Everybody profits from stability on the international oil market,” while the low prices hurt not only the US and Russia, but the Saudis themselves, he explained. “We’ve seen this in 2014 and 2015 when Riyadh was losing up to $100 billion annually.”

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Trump may well agree to work with Riyadh and Moscow to reduce production in order to save the American shale industry and “make a sort of a grandstanding, which would show that he’s willing to cooperate with the international community in those hard circumstances,” Baklanov pointed out.

Besides, even a minor drop in production – of around four to six billion barrels – agreed by the sides, may significantly improve the situation as “the oil market is a bit artificial and sometimes symbolic gestures can have a major effect,” he said.

But Baklanov suggested that it shouldn’t be all about Riyadh, Washington and Moscow. “A whole new situation has formed on the international oil market due to the global battle against the coronavirus and it calls for a whole new response from the countries that produce and consume oil,” he added.

A fresh formula of cooperation between the oil countries is gravely needed. It must include OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) nations of which Saudi Arabia is a major player, Russia and other states that joined the OPEC+ format between 2017 and 2020, as well as those who never participated in the group including “the US, of course, as potentially the largest oil producer in the world.”

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