OIL IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC: The global oil market is in an unprecedented situation, one that will hasten companies falling out of the sector, IHS Markit vice chairman and long-time energy industry doyen Daniel Yergin said Thursday. Yergin, in D.C. for an Energy Department board meeting, would normally have been in Houston to preside over the mammoth CERAWeek energy conference this week if the spread of the coronavirus hadn’t forced its cancellation for the first time in its nearly 40-year history. The economic distress, coupled with the flood of oil coming from Saudi Arabia and Russia, has put the overall industry in a situation it has never faced before and one that the federal government would be hard-pressed to fix, he said.
“I mean, there’s just so much weakness,” Yergin told reporters after the meeting. “There’s so much oil out there flooding into the market. It’s a problem of an oil price war in the middle of a constricting market and the walls are closing in. Normally, demand would solve the problem in a way. But not in this case, because of the freezing up of economic activity. Low gasoline prices and low oil prices don’t do much when schools are closed, when people are canceling all their trips and people are working from home. There have been many cases of an oil market collapse and competition for market share, but I can’t think of any one that was in the context of a larger global epidemic.”
Some of the possible solutions being bandied about probably wouldn’t work , Yergin said. Government purchases of oil to put into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? “You’d have to write some very big checks, and I don’t know if they could deal with the amount of oil coming into the market,” Yergin said. Anti-dumping complaints of the sort Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm said he’s pursuing? “I don’t think it would solve things overnight,” Yergin said, and it would be tough to prove Saudi Arabia is selling its oil below cost. “I think this is certain to accelerate consolidation” in the industry, Yergin said of the current market. “But it’s still early days.”
Here’s one idea: Railroad Commission should (1) order all flaring in the Permian to cease, requiring those wells flaring gas to shut in the wells or sell the gas, and (2) re-institute proration of production in the Permian, reducing economic waste.