Saudis face delicate balancing act at OPEC meeting

Oil prices were up Friday as analysts noted that Saudi Arabia must be careful this weekend at balancing the wishes of OPEC member countries and Russia with those of the Trump administration.

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Saudis face delicate balancing act at OPEC meeting
Saudi leaders face pressure from the United States to raise crude oil production. Photo by photostock77/Shutterstock

Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabian leaders find themselves in a tough spot going into meetings with OPEC, Russia and other top oil producers in Algiers this weekend.

The Saudis, who lead the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, face pressure from President Donald Trump to increase production to stabilize crude oil prices. But the Saudis must also appease their fellow OPEC countries, who could threaten their leadership within the oil cartel.


OPEC and Russia were unified in their efforts to reduce production the past two years to push prices up. The alliance with Russia is critical for the Saudis and they want to make it a permanent institution. Trump has called on the Saudis to ramp up oil production to compensate for the looming sanctions against Iran.

But that wouldn't go over well with other OPEC members or Russia, which now has power to control worldwide oil production.

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"The Saudis do want to have as amicable a discussion as possible, and they want to prepare for the launch of this organization in December," said Robert McNally, president and founder of Rapidan Energy Group. "That argues against rubbing new supply in Iran's face. They have a balancing act to strike."


Analysts expect OPEC to reaffirm its current policy, slightly raising output while withholding 1.8 million barrels per day off the market. OPEC partnered with Russia as a reaction to the rise of U.S. shale oil that suddenly left them with a real rival for the first time in decades.

"It has been a surprise to see Russia up there, shaping the oil markets, but changing times are resulting in new alliances and new leaders," Andrew Lipow, an oil analyst in Houston, said. "The Russians are using their diplomacy and their swing production to keep prices high."

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When OPEC and Russia did agree to increase production in June, nearly one-third of that new oil came from Russia.

The Saudis appear to be comfortable with Brent oil prices above $80.

But Trump's reaction on Twitter might have given them pause as he called on OPEC to get prices down.

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"I don't think the Saudis are at all comfortable with Brent above $80 because that gets President Trump on Twitter," McNally said.

WTI and Brent prices soared in Friday trading. WTI prices were up $1.11, or 1.58 percent, to $71.43 a barrel. Brent prices were up 76 cents, or nearly 1 percent on the day.

WTI prices are up because supplies are down more than 2 million barrels for the week ending Sept. 14, according to the Energy Information Administration reports.

U.S. crude oil exports are also up at 2.37 million barrels per day.

"The tightness in the global oil market and a wide spread between Brent and WTI also enticed the highest level of U.S. exports since July," according to analysts at ANZ bank.

Analysts are also anticipating the latest rig count from Baker Hughes to get an indication of oil field activity.

The upcoming sanctions on Iran present an opportunity to countries like Iraq and for shale producers in the United States. Shale drillers need to act fast, though, Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at Morningstar, said in a new report.

"Time is of the essence for the U.S. producers to grab this opportunity since several competing suppliers are knocking at the same door," Fielden said.


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