- Bill Allowing U.S. to Sue OPEC Drawing Renewed Interest
With oil prices hitting fresh four-year highs, long-dormant proposals to allow the United States to sue OPEC nations are getting a fresh look in Congress, though they were once considered a longshot to becoming law.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee on Wednesday will hear testimony on the so-called No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, or NOPEC, which would revoke the sovereign immunity that has long shielded OPEC members from U.S. legal action.
The bill would change U.S. antitrust law to allow OPEC producers to be sued for collusion; it would make it illegal to restrain oil or gas production or set those prices – removing sovereign immunity that U.S. courts have ruled exists under current law.
Past U.S. leaders have opposed the NOPEC bill, but the possibility of its success may have increased due to President Donald Trump’s frequent criticism of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and as some predict that Brent crude, the international benchmark, could reach $100 a barrel before long.
“OPEC is a pet peeve for him,” said Joe McMonigle, senior energy policy analyst at Hedgeye Potomac Research. “Everybody thinks he could easily support NOPEC.”
Saudi Arabia is lobbying the U.S. government to prevent the bill’s passage, sources familiar with the matter said. Business groups and oil companies also oppose the bill, citing the possibility of retaliation from other countries.
OPEC controls output from member nations by setting production targets. Prices are up 82 percent following the cartel’s decision to cut output at the end of 2016, hitting $84 a barrel on Monday, and lawmakers have trained their ire on the group, saying it is again harming consumers and represents interference in free markets.
Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights could give insight into the executive branch’s stance, McMonigle said. One of the witnesses will be Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, who has written in support of such legislation.
A version of NOPEC passed both houses of Congress in 2007 but was shelved after President George W. Bush said he would veto the legislation. Chances of passage this year are slim, as the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to be in session only 16 days the rest of this year, leaving little time for anything but must-do legislation like keeping the government funded.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, is worried that NOPEC could turn into another Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) law, which allows victims of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States to sue Riyadh, the sources said. The JASTA law is seen as key to why state-run Saudi Aramco was hesitant in publicly listing its shares on U.S. markets in an IPO that has since been shelved.
With close to $1 trillion in investments in the United States, Riyadh has a lot to lose if NOPEC becomes law. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih raised concerns about it with U.S. officials, including U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, during private meetings in recent months, two sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute told Congress they opposed the bill, saying surging U.S. energy output had mitigated OPEC’s influence.
Since the U.S. renewed sanctions on Iran this May, other nations, including Saudi Arabia, have agreed to increase production. However, that has not yet stopped oil’s upward climb.
Oil Prices Recover Slightly Amidst Demand Concerns in U.S. and China
Oil Prices Continue Slide as Market Skepticism Grows Over OPEC+ Cuts
Global oil markets witnessed a continued decline on Wednesday as investors assessed the impact of extended OPEC+ cuts against a backdrop of diminishing demand prospects in China.
Brent crude oil, the international benchmark for Nigerian crude oil, declined by 63 cents to $76.57 a barrel while U.S. WTI crude oil lost 58 cents to $71.74 a barrel.
Last week, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, collectively known as OPEC+, agreed to maintain voluntary output cuts of approximately 2.2 million barrels per day through the first quarter of 2024.
Despite this effort to tighten supply, market sentiment remains unresponsive.
“The decision to further reduce output from January failed to stimulate the market, and the recent, seemingly coordinated, assurances from Saudi Arabia and Russia to extend the constraints beyond 1Q 2024 or even deepen the cuts if needed have also fallen to deaf ears,” noted PVM analyst Tamas Varga.
Adding to the unease, Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut its official selling price (OSP) for flagship Arab Light to Asia in January for the first time in seven months raises concerns about the struggling demand for oil.
Amid the market turmoil, concerns over China’s economic health cast a shadow, potentially limiting fuel demand in the world’s second-largest oil consumer.
Moody’s recent decision to lower China’s A1 rating outlook from stable to negative further contributes to the apprehension.
Analysts will closely watch China’s preliminary trade data, including crude oil import figures, set to be released on Thursday.
The outcome will provide insights into the trajectory of China’s refinery runs, with expectations leaning towards a decline in November.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic visit to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia has added an extra layer of complexity to the oil market dynamics.
Discussions centered around the cooperation between Russia, the UAE, and OPEC+ in major oil and gas projects, highlighting the intricate geopolitical factors influencing oil prices.
U.S. Crude Production Hits Another Record, Posing Challenges for OPEC
U.S. crude oil production reached a new record in September, surging by 224,000 barrels per day to 13.24 million barrels per day.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a consecutive monthly increase, adding 342,000 barrels per day over the previous three months, marking an annualized growth rate of 11%.
The surge in domestic production has led to a buildup of crude inventories and a softening of prices, challenging OPEC⁺ efforts to stabilize the market.
Despite a decrease in the number of active drilling rigs over the past year, U.S. production continues to rise.
This growth is attributed to enhanced drilling efficiency, with producers focusing on promising sites and drilling longer horizontal well sections to maximize contact with oil-bearing rock.
While OPEC⁺ production cuts have stabilized prices at relatively high levels, U.S. producers are benefiting from this stability.
The current strategy seems to embrace non-OPEC non-shale (NONS) producers, similar to how North Sea producers did in the 1980s.
Saudi Arabia, along with its OPEC⁺ partners, is resuming its role as a swing producer, balancing the market by adjusting its output.
Despite OPEC’s inability to formally collaborate with U.S. shale producers due to antitrust laws, efforts are made to include other NONS producers like Brazil in the coordination system.
This outreach aligns with the historical pattern of embracing rival producers to maintain control over a significant share of global production.
In contrast, U.S. gas production hit a seasonal record high in September, reaching 3,126 billion cubic feet.
However, unlike crude, there are signs that gas production growth is slowing due to very low prices and the absence of a swing producer.
Gas production increased by only 1.8% in September 2023 compared to the same month the previous year.
While the gas market is in the process of rebalancing, excess inventories may persist, keeping prices low.
The impact of a strengthening El Niño in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean could further influence temperatures and reduce nationwide heating demand, impacting gas prices in the coming months.
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