Rethinking the Oil Market

WASHINGTON, DC – Oil prices have plummeted by about 65% from their peak in June 2014 (see chart below), and there is now intense debate about why. One thing we know for sure is that the oil market has undergone structural changes, thus making this latest episode different from previous dramatic price fluctuations.

crude oil

The collapse in prices has been driven in part by supply-side factors. These include the United States’ rapid increase in shale-energy production in recent years, and the US government’s decision to end a 40-year crude-oil export ban. Moreover, oil output from war-torn countries such as Libya and Iraq has exceeded expectations, and Iran has returned to world oil markets following its nuclear agreement with the world’s major powers. And Saudi Arabia, the largest member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has increased production to defend its market share.

With this glut in oil, many commentators are now asking if OPEC still matters. High demand for oil since 2000 gave OPEC, and Saudi Arabia in particular, significant influence over prices, but it also spurred investments in higher-cost production methods in other locales, such as oil sands mining in Canada and ultra-deepwater oil extraction in Brazil.