Organization of the
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC, /ˈoʊpɛk/
OH-pek, or OPEP in several other languages) is an intergovernmental
organization of 14 nations as of February 2018, founded in 1960 in
Baghdad by the first five members (Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia,
and Venezuela), and headquartered since 1965 in Vienna, Austria. As of
2016, the 14 countries accounted for an estimated 44 percent of global
oil production and 73 percent of the world's "proven" oil reserves,
OPEC a major influence on global oil prices that were
previously determined by American-dominated multinational oil
OPEC's stated mission is "to coordinate and unify the petroleum
policies of its member countries and ensure the stabilization of oil
markets, in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply
of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers, and a fair
return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry."
The organization is also a significant provider of information about
the international oil market. As of May 2017, OPEC's members are
Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq,
Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar,
Saudi Arabia (the de facto leader),
United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela, while
Indonesia is a former
member. Two-thirds of OPEC's oil production and reserves are in its
six Middle Eastern countries that surround the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
The formation of
OPEC marked a turning point toward national
sovereignty over natural resources, and
OPEC decisions have come to
play a prominent role in the global oil market and international
relations. The effect can be particularly strong when wars or civil
disorders lead to extended interruptions in supply. In the 1970s,
restrictions in oil production led to a dramatic rise in oil prices
and OPEC's revenue and wealth, with long-lasting and far-reaching
consequences for the global economy. In the 1980s,
setting production targets for its member nations; and generally when
the production targets are reduced, oil prices increase, most recently
from the organization's 2008 and 2016 decisions to trim oversupply.
Economists often cite
OPEC as a textbook example of a cartel that
cooperates to reduce market competition, but whose consultations are
protected by the doctrine of state immunity under international law.
In December 2014, "
OPEC and the oil men" ranked as #3 on
of "the top 100 most influential people in the shipping industry".
However, their influence on international trade is periodically
challenged by the expansion of non-
OPEC energy sources, and by the
recurring temptation for individual
OPEC countries to exceed
production ceilings and pursue conflicting self-interests.
1.1 Current member countries
1.2 Lapsed members
1.4 Leadership and decision-making
2 Market information
2.1 Publications and research
2.2 Crude oil benchmarks
2.3 Spare capacity
3 History and impact
3.1 Post-WWII situation
3.2 1959–1960 anger from exporting countries
3.3 1960–1975 founding and expansion
3.4 1973–1974 oil embargo
Special Fund, now OFID
3.6 1975 hostage siege
3.7 1979–1980 oil crisis and 1980s oil glut
3.8 1990–2003 ample supply and modest disruptions
3.9 2003–2011 volatility
3.10 2008 production dispute
3.11 2014–2017 oil glut
3.12 2017-2018 Production cut
4 See also
6 External links
Current member countries
As of May 2017,
OPEC has 14 member countries: six in the Middle East
(Western Asia), six in Africa, and two in South America. According to
Energy Information Administration
Energy Information Administration (EIA), OPEC's combined rate
of oil production (including gas condensate) represented 44 percent of
the world's total in 2016, and
OPEC accounted for 73 percent of the
world's "proven" oil reserves, including 48 percent from just the six
Middle Eastern members:
Approval of a new member country requires agreement by three-quarters
of OPEC's existing members, including all five of the founders. In
Sudan formally submitted an application to join, but
it is not yet a member.
United Arab Emirates
^ a b One petroleum barrel (bbl) is approximately 42 U.S. gallons, or
159 liters, or 0.159 m3, varying slightly with temperature.
To put the production numbers in context, a supertanker typically
holds 2,000,000 barrels (320,000 m3), and the world's
current production rate would take approximately 56 years to exhaust
the world's current proven reserves.
^ a b c d e The five founding members attended the first OPEC
conference in September 1960.
^ The UAE was founded in December 1971. Its
OPEC membership originated
with the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
For countries that export petroleum at relatively low volume, their
limited negotiating power as
OPEC members would not necessarily
justify the burdens imposed by
OPEC production quotas and membership
Ecuador withdrew from
OPEC in December 1992, because it was
unwilling to pay the annual US$2 million membership fee and felt
that it needed to produce more oil than it was allowed under its OPEC
quota at the time, although it rejoined in October 2007. Similar
Gabon to suspend membership in January 1995; it
rejoined in July 2016. In May 2008,
Indonesia announced that it would
OPEC when its membership expired at the end of that year, having
become a net importer of oil and being unable to meet its production
quota. It rejoined the organization in January 2016, but
announced another "temporary suspension" of its membership at year-end
OPEC requested a 5 percent production cut.
Some commentators consider that the United States was a de facto
OPEC during its formal occupation of Iraq, due to its
leadership of the
Coalition Provisional Authority
Coalition Provisional Authority in
2003–2004. But this is not borne out by the minutes of OPEC
meetings, as no US representative attended in an official
Since the 1980s, representatives from Egypt, Mexico, Norway, Oman,
Russia, and other oil-exporting nations have attended many OPEC
meetings as observers. This arrangement serves as an informal
mechanism for coordinating policies.
Leadership and decision-making
OPEC Conference delegates at Swissotel, Quito, Ecuador, December 2010
See also: List of Secretaries General of OPEC
OPEC Conference is the supreme authority of the organization, and
consists of delegations normally headed by the oil ministers of member
countries. The chief executive of the organization is the OPEC
Secretary General. The Conference ordinarily meets at the Vienna
headquarters, at least twice a year and in additional extraordinary
sessions when necessary. It generally operates on the principles of
unanimity and "one member, one vote", with each country paying an
equal membership fee into the annual budget. However, since Saudi
Arabia is by far the largest and most-profitable oil exporter in the
world, with enough capacity to function as the traditional swing
producer to balance the global market, it serves as "OPEC's de facto
At various times,
OPEC members have displayed apparent
anti-competitive cartel behavior through the organization's agreements
about oil production and price levels. In fact, economists often
OPEC as a textbook example of a cartel that cooperates to reduce
market competition, as in this definition from OECD's Glossary of
Industrial Organisation Economics and Competition Law:
International commodity agreements covering products such as coffee,
sugar, tin and more recently oil (OPEC: Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries) are examples of international cartels which have
publicly entailed agreements between different national governments.
OPEC members strongly prefer to describe their organization as a
modest force for market stabilization, rather than a powerful
anti-competitive cartel. In its defense, the organization was founded
as a counterweight against the previous "Seven Sisters" cartel of
multinational oil companies, and non-
OPEC energy suppliers have
maintained enough market share for a substantial degree of worldwide
competition. Moreover, because of an economic "prisoner's dilemma"
that encourages each member nation individually to discount its price
and exceed its production quota, widespread cheating within OPEC
often erodes its ability to influence global oil prices through
OPEC has not been involved in any disputes related to the competition
rules of the World Trade Organization, even though the objectives,
actions, and principles of the two organizations diverge
considerably. A key US District Court decision held that OPEC
consultations are protected as "governmental" acts of state by the
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and are therefore beyond the legal
reach of US competition law governing "commercial" acts.
Despite popular sentiment against OPEC, legislative proposals to limit
the organization's sovereign immunity, such as the
NOPEC Act, have so
far been unsuccessful.
OPEC often has difficulty agreeing on policy decisions because its
member countries differ widely in their oil export capacities,
production costs, reserves, geological features, population, economic
development, budgetary situations, and political
circumstances. Indeed, over the course of market cycles, oil
reserves can themselves become a source of serious conflict,
instability and imbalances, in what economists call the "natural
resource curse". A further complication is that
religion-linked conflicts in the
Middle East are recurring features of
the geopolitical landscape for this oil-rich region.
Internationally important conflicts in OPEC's history have included
Six-Day War (1967),
Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War (1973), a hostage siege
directed by Palestinian militants (1975), the Iranian Revolution
Iraq War (1980–1988), Iraqi occupation of Kuwait
September 11 attacks
September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi hijackers (2001),
American occupation of
Iraq (2003–2011), Conflict in the Niger Delta
Arab Spring (2010–2012), Libyan Crisis
(2011–present), and international
Embargo against Iran
(2012–2016). Although events such as these can temporarily disrupt
oil supplies and elevate prices, the frequent disputes and
instabilities tend to limit OPEC's long-term cohesion and
As one area in which
OPEC members have been able to cooperate
productively over the decades, the organization has significantly
improved the quality and quantity of information available about the
international oil market. This is especially helpful for a
natural-resource industry whose smooth functioning requires months and
years of careful planning.
Publications and research
Logo for JODI, in which
OPEC is a founding member
In April 2001,
OPEC collaborated with five other international
organizations (APEC, Eurostat, IEA, OLADE (es), UNSD) to improve
the availability and reliability of oil data. They launched the Joint
Oil Data Exercise, which in 2005 was joined by IEF and renamed the
Joint Organisations Data Initiative
Joint Organisations Data Initiative (JODI), covering more than 90
percent of the global oil market. GECF joined as an eighth partner in
2014, enabling JODI also to cover nearly 90 percent of the global
market for natural gas.
OPEC has published the "World Oil Outlook" (WOO) annually,
in which it presents a comprehensive analysis of the global oil
industry including medium- and long-term projections for supply and
OPEC also produces an "Annual Statistical Bulletin"
(ASB), and publishes more-frequent updates in its "Monthly Oil
Market Report" (MOMR) and "
Crude oil benchmarks
Sulfur content and
API gravity of different types of crude oil
See also: Benchmark (crude oil)
A "crude oil benchmark" is a standardized petroleum product that
serves as a convenient reference price for buyers and sellers of crude
oil, including standardized contracts in major futures markets since
1983. Benchmarks are used because oil prices differ (usually by a few
dollars per barrel) based on variety, grade, delivery date and
location, and other legal requirements.
OPEC Reference Basket of Crudes has been an important benchmark
for oil prices since 2000. It is calculated as a weighted average of
prices for petroleum blends from the
OPEC member countries: Saharan
Blend (Algeria), Girassol (Angola), Oriente (Ecuador), Rabi Light
Iran Heavy (Islamic Republic of Iran), Basra Light (Iraq),
Kuwait Export (Kuwait), Es Sider (Libya), Bonny Light (Nigeria), Qatar
Marine (Qatar), Arab Light (Saudi Arabia), Murban (UAE), and Merey
Brent Crude Oil is the leading benchmark for Atlantic basin
crude oils, and is used to price approximately two-thirds of the
world's traded crude oil. Other well-known benchmarks are West Texas
Intermediate (WTI), Dubai Crude,
Oman Crude, and Urals oil.
The US Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the
US Department of Energy, defines spare capacity for crude oil market
management "as the volume of production that can be brought on within
30 days and sustained for at least 90 days...
OPEC spare capacity
provides an indicator of the world oil market's ability to respond to
potential crises that reduce oil supplies."
In November 2014, the
International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that
OPEC's "effective" spare capacity, adjusted for ongoing disruptions in
Libya and Nigeria, was 3.5 million barrels per day
(560,000 m3/d) and that this number would increase to a peak in
2017 of 4.6 million barrels per day (730,000 m3/d). By
November 2015, the IEA changed its assessment "with OPEC's spare
production buffer stretched thin, as
Saudi Arabia – which holds the
lion's share of excess capacity – and its [Persian] Gulf neighbours
pump at near-record rates."
History and impact
Iran took the earliest steps in the direction
of OPEC, by inviting Iraq,
Saudi Arabia to improve
communication among petroleum-exporting nations as the world recovered
from World War II. At the time, some of the world's largest
oil fields were just entering production in the Middle East. The
United States had established the
Interstate Oil Compact Commission
Interstate Oil Compact Commission to
Texas Railroad Commission
Texas Railroad Commission in limiting overproduction. The US
was simultaneously the world's largest producer and consumer of oil;
and the world market was dominated by a group of multinational
companies known as the "Seven Sisters", five of which were
headquartered in the US following the breakup of John D. Rockefeller's
Standard Oil monopoly. Oil-exporting countries were
eventually motivated to form
OPEC as a counterweight to this
concentration of political and economic power.
1959–1960 anger from exporting countries
In February 1959, as new supplies were becoming available, the
multinational oil companies (MOCs) unilaterally reduced their posted
prices for Venezuelan and Middle Eastern crude oil by 10 percent.
Weeks later, the Arab League's first
Arab Petroleum Congress
Arab Petroleum Congress convened
in Cairo, Egypt, where the influential journalist Wanda Jablonski
introduced Saudi Arabia's
Abdullah Tariki to Venezuela's observer Juan
Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, representing the two then-largest oil-producing
nations outside the United States and the Soviet Union. Both oil
ministers were angered by the price cuts, and the two led their fellow
delegates to establish the Maadi Pact or Gentlemen's Agreement,
calling for an "Oil Consultation Commission" of exporting countries,
to which MOCs should present price-change plans. Jablonski reported a
marked hostility toward the West and a growing outcry against
"absentee landlordism" of the MOCs, which at the time controlled all
oil operations within the exporting countries and wielded enormous
political influence. In August 1960, ignoring the warnings, and with
the US favoring Canadian and Mexican oil for strategic reasons, the
MOCs again unilaterally announced significant cuts in their posted
prices for Middle Eastern crude oil.
1960–1975 founding and expansion
OPEC headquarters in Vienna
The following month, during 10–14 September 1960, the Baghdad
Conference was held at the initiative of Tariki, Pérez Alfonzo, and
Iraqi prime minister Abd al-Karim Qasim, whose country had skipped the
1959 congress. Government representatives from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia and
Venezuela met in
Baghdad to discuss ways to increase
the price of crude oil produced by their countries, and ways to
respond to unilateral actions by the MOCs. Despite strong US
opposition: "Together with Arab and non-Arab producers, Saudi Arabia
formed the Organization of
Petroleum Export Countries (OPEC) to secure
the best price available from the major oil corporations." The
Middle Eastern members originally called for
OPEC headquarters to be
Baghdad or Beirut, but
Venezuela argued for a neutral location, and
so the organization chose Geneva, Switzerland. On 1 September 1965,
OPEC moved to Vienna, Austria, after
Switzerland declined to extend
During 1961–1975, the five founding nations were joined by Qatar
Indonesia (1962–2008, rejoined 2014-2016),
United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates (originally just the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, 1967),
Ecuador (1973–1992, rejoined 2007),
Gabon (1975–1994, rejoined 2016). By the early 1970s, OPEC's
membership accounted for more than half of worldwide oil
production. Indicating that
OPEC is not averse to further
expansion, Mohammed Barkindo, OPEC's Acting Secretary General in 2006,
urged his African neighbors
Sudan to join, and Angola
did in 2007, followed by
Equatorial Guinea in 2017. Since the
1980s, representatives from Egypt, Mexico, Norway, Oman, Russia, and
other oil-exporting nations have attended many
OPEC meetings as
observers, as an informal mechanism for coordinating policies.
1973–1974 oil embargo
An undersupplied US gasoline station, closed during the oil embargo in
Main article: 1973 oil crisis
In October 1973, the Organization of Arab
Countries (OAPEC, consisting of the Arab majority of
OPEC plus Egypt
and Syria) declared significant production cuts and an oil embargo
against the United States and other industrialized nations that
supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War. A previous embargo
attempt was largely ineffective in response to the
Six-Day War in
1967. However, in 1973, the result was a sharp rise in oil prices
OPEC revenues, from US$3/bbl to US$12/bbl, and an emergency period
of energy rationing, intensified by panic reactions, a declining trend
in US oil production, currency devaluations, and a lengthy UK
coal-miners dispute. For a time, the UK imposed an emergency three-day
workweek. Seven European nations banned non-essential Sunday
driving. US gas stations limited the amount of gasoline that could
be dispensed, closed on Sundays, and restricted the days when gasoline
could be purchased, based on license plate numbers. Even after
the embargo ended in March 1974 following intense diplomatic activity,
prices continued to rise. The world experienced a global economic
recession, with unemployment and inflation surging simultaneously,
steep declines in stock and bond prices, major shifts in trade
balances and petrodollar flows, and a dramatic end to the post-WWII
The 1973–1974 oil embargo had lasting effects on the United States
and other industrialized nations, which established the International
Energy Agency in response, as well as national emergency stockpiles
designed to withstand months of future supply disruptions. Oil
conservation efforts included lower speed limits on highways, smaller
and more energy-efficient cars and appliances, year-round daylight
saving time, reduced usage of heating and air-conditioning, better
insulation, increased support of mass transit, and greater emphasis on
coal, natural gas, ethanol, nuclear and other alternative energy
sources. These long-term efforts became effective enough that US oil
consumption would rise only 11 percent during 1980–2014, while real
GDP rose 150 percent. But in the 1970s,
OPEC nations demonstrated
convincingly that their oil could be used as both a political and
economic weapon against other nations, at least in the short
Special Fund, now OFID
OPEC Fund for
OPEC's international aid activities date from well before the
1973–1974 oil price surge. For example, the
Kuwait Fund for Arab
Economic Development has operated since 1961.
In the years after 1973, as an example of so-called "checkbook
diplomacy", certain Arab nations have been among the world's largest
providers of foreign aid, and
OPEC added to its goals the
selling of oil for the socio-economic growth of poorer nations. The
Special Fund was conceived in Algiers, Algeria, in March 1975,
and was formally established the following January. "A Solemn
Declaration 'reaffirmed the natural solidarity which unites OPEC
countries with other developing countries in their struggle to
overcome underdevelopment,' and called for measures to strengthen
cooperation between these countries... [The
resources are additional to those already made available by OPEC
states through a number of bilateral and multilateral channels."
The Fund became an official international development agency in May
1980 and was renamed the
OPEC Fund for
(OFID), with Permanent Observer status at the United Nations.
1975 hostage siege
On 21 December 1975, Saudi Arabia's Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Iran's Jamshid
Amuzegar, and the other
OPEC oil ministers were taken hostage at their
semi-annual conference in Vienna, Austria. The attack, which killed
three non-ministers, was orchestrated by a six-person team led by
Venezuelan terrorist "Carlos the Jackal", and which included Gabriele
Kröcher-Tiedemann and Hans-Joachim Klein. The self-named "Arm of the
Arab Revolution" group declared its goal to be the liberation of
Palestine. Carlos planned to take over the conference by force and
hold for ransom all eleven attending oil ministers, except for Yamani
and Amuzegar who were to be executed.
Carlos arranged bus and plane travel for his team and 42 of the
original 63 hostages, with stops in
Algiers and Tripoli, planning to
fly eventually to Baghdad, where Yamani and Amuzegar were to be
killed. All 30 non-Arab hostages were released in Algiers, excluding
Amuzegar. Additional hostages were released at another stop in Tripoli
before returning to Algiers. With only 10 hostages remaining, Carlos
held a phone conversation with Algerian President Houari Boumédienne,
who informed Carlos that the oil ministers' deaths would result in an
attack on the plane. Boumédienne must also have offered Carlos asylum
at this time and possibly financial compensation for failing to
complete his assignment. Carlos expressed his regret at not being able
to murder Yamani and Amuzegar, then he and his comrades left the
plane. All the hostages and terrorists walked away from the situation,
two days after it began.
Some time after the attack, Carlos's accomplices revealed that the
operation was commanded by Wadie Haddad, a founder of the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine. They also claimed that the idea
and funding came from an Arab president, widely thought to be Muammar
al-Gaddafi of Libya, itself an
OPEC member. Fellow militants Bassam
Abu Sharif and Klein claimed that Carlos received and kept a ransom
between US$20 million and US$50 million from "an Arab
president". Carlos claimed that
Saudi Arabia paid ransom on behalf of
Iran, but that the money was "diverted en route and lost by the
Revolution". He was finally captured in 1994 and is serving
life sentences for at least 16 other murders.
1979–1980 oil crisis and 1980s oil glut
OPEC net oil export revenues since 1972
1979 oil crisis
1979 oil crisis and 1980s oil glut
In response to a wave of oil nationalizations and the high prices of
the 1970s, industrial nations took steps to reduce their dependence on
OPEC oil, especially after prices reached new peaks approaching
US$40/bbl in 1979–1980 when the
Iranian Revolution and
Iraq War disrupted regional stability and oil supplies.
Electric utilities worldwide switched from oil to coal, natural gas,
or nuclear power; national governments initiated
multibillion-dollar research programs to develop alternatives to
oil; and commercial exploration developed major non-OPEC
oilfields in Siberia, Alaska, the North Sea, and the Gulf of
Mexico. By 1986, daily worldwide demand for oil dropped by
5 million barrels, non-
OPEC production rose by an even-larger
amount, and OPEC's market share sank from approximately 50 percent
in 1979 to less than 30 percent in 1985. Illustrating the volatile
multi-year timeframes of typical market cycles for natural resources,
the result was a six-year decline in the price of oil, which
culminated by plunging more than half in 1986 alone. As one oil
analyst summarized succinctly: "When the price of something as
essential as oil spikes, humanity does two things: finds more of it
and finds ways to use less of it."
To combat falling revenue from oil sales, in 1982
Saudi Arabia pressed
OPEC for audited national production quotas in an attempt to limit
output and boost prices. When other
OPEC nations failed to comply,
Saudi Arabia first slashed its own production from 10 million
barrels daily in 1979–1981 to just one-third of that level in 1985.
When even this proved ineffective,
Saudi Arabia reversed course and
flooded the market with cheap oil, causing prices to fall below
US$10/bbl and higher-cost producers to become unprofitable. Faced
with increasing economic hardship (which ultimately contributed to the
collapse of the
Soviet bloc in 1989), the "free-riding" oil
exporters that had previously failed to comply with
finally began to limit production to shore up prices, based on
painstakingly negotiated national quotas that sought to balance
oil-related and economic criteria since 1986. (Within their
sovereign-controlled territories, the national governments of OPEC
members are able to impose production limits on both government-owned
and private oil companies.) Generally when
OPEC production targets
are reduced, oil prices increase.
1990–2003 ample supply and modest disruptions
See also: 1990 oil price shock
One of the hundreds of
Kuwaiti oil fires
Kuwaiti oil fires set by retreating Iraqi
troops in 1991
Fluctuations of Brent crude oil price, 1988–2015
Leading up to his August 1990 Invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein was pushing
OPEC to end overproduction and to send oil
prices higher, in order to help
OPEC members financially and to
accelerate rebuilding from the 1980–1988 Iran–
Iraq War. But
these two Iraqi wars against fellow
OPEC founders marked a low point
in the cohesion of the organization, and oil prices subsided quickly
after the short-term supply disruptions. The September 2001 Al Qaeda
attacks on the US and the March 2003 US invasion of
Iraq had even
milder short-term impacts on oil prices, as
Saudi Arabia and other
exporters again cooperated to keep the world adequately supplied.
In the 1990s,
OPEC lost its two newest members, who had joined in the
Ecuador withdrew in December 1992, because it was unwilling
to pay the annual US$2 million membership fee and felt that it
needed to produce more oil than it was allowed under the OPEC
quota, although it rejoined in October 2007. Similar concerns
Gabon to suspend membership in January 1995; it rejoined
in July 2016.
Iraq has remained a member of
OPEC since the
organization's founding, but Iraqi production was not a part of OPEC
quota agreements from 1998 to 2016, due to the country's daunting
Lower demand triggered by the 1997–1998
Asian financial crisis
Asian financial crisis saw
the price of oil fall back to 1986 levels. After oil slumped to around
US$10/bbl, joint diplomacy achieved a gradual slowing of oil
production by OPEC,
Mexico and Norway.
In June 2003, the
International Energy Agency (IEA) and
their first joint workshop on energy issues. They have continued to
meet regularly since then, "to collectively better understand trends,
analysis and viewpoints and advance market transparency and
See also: Oil price increases of 2003–2008
Widespread insurgency and sabotage occurred during the 2003–2008
height of the American occupation of Iraq, coinciding with rapidly
increasing oil demand from
China and commodity-hungry investors,
recurring violence against the Nigerian oil industry, and dwindling
spare capacity as a cushion against potential shortages. This
combination of forces prompted a sharp rise in oil prices to levels
far higher than those previously targeted by OPEC.
Price volatility reached an extreme in 2008, as WTI crude oil surged
to a record US$147/bbl in July and then plunged back to US$32/bbl in
December, during the worst global recession since World War II.
OPEC's annual oil export revenue also set a new record in 2008,
estimated around US$1 trillion, and reached similar annual rates
in 2011–2014 (along with extensive petrodollar recycling activity)
before plunging again. By the time of the 2011 Libyan Civil War
and Arab Spring,
OPEC started issuing explicit statements to counter
"excessive speculation" in oil futures markets, blaming financial
speculators for increasing volatility beyond market fundamentals.
In May 2008,
Indonesia announced that it would leave
OPEC when its
membership expired at the end of that year, having become a net
importer of oil and being unable to meet its production quota. A
statement released by
OPEC on 10 September 2008 confirmed Indonesia's
withdrawal, noting that
OPEC "regretfully accepted the wish of
Indonesia to suspend its full membership in the organization, and
recorded its hope that the country would be in a position to rejoin
the organization in the not-too-distant future."
2008 production dispute
Countries by net oil exports (2008)
The differing economic needs of
OPEC member states often affect the
internal debates behind
OPEC production quotas. Poorer members have
pushed for production cuts from fellow members, to increase the price
of oil and thus their own revenues. These proposals conflict with
Saudi Arabia's stated long-term strategy of being a partner with the
world's economic powers to ensure a steady flow of oil that would
support economic expansion. Part of the basis for this policy is
the Saudi concern that overly expensive oil or unreliable supply will
drive industrial nations to conserve energy and develop alternative
fuels, curtailing the worldwide demand for oil and eventually leaving
unneeded barrels in the ground. To this point, Saudi Oil Minister
Yamani famously remarked in 1973: "The Stone Age didn't end because we
ran out of stones."
On 10 September 2008, with oil prices still near US$100/bbl, a
production dispute occurred when the Saudis reportedly walked out of a
negotiating session where rival members voted to reduce
Although Saudi delegates officially endorsed the new quotas, they
stated anonymously that they would not observe them. The New York
Times quoted one such delegate as saying: "
Saudi Arabia will meet the
market's demand. We will see what the market requires and we will not
leave a customer without oil. The policy has not changed." Over
the next few months, oil prices plummeted into the $30s, and did not
return to $100 until the Libyan Civil War in 2011.
2014–2017 oil glut
See also: 2010s oil glut
Countries by oil production (2013)
Top oil-producing countries
(million barrels per day, 1973–2016)
Gusher well in Saudi Arabia: conventional source of
Shale "fracking" in the US: important new challenge to
OPEC members consistently exceeded their
production ceiling, and
China experienced a slowdown in economic
growth. At the same time, US oil production nearly doubled from 2008
levels and approached the world-leading "swing producer" volumes of
Saudi Arabia and Russia, due to the substantial long-term improvement
and spread of shale "fracking" technology in response to the years of
record oil prices. These developments led in turn to a plunge in US
oil import requirements (moving closer to energy independence), a
record volume of worldwide oil inventories, and a collapse in oil
prices that continued into early 2016.
In spite of global oversupply, on 27 November 2014 in Vienna, Saudi
Ali Al-Naimi blocked appeals from poorer
OPEC members for
production cuts to support prices. Naimi argued that the oil market
should be left to rebalance itself competitively at lower price
levels, strategically rebuilding OPEC's long-term market share by
ending the profitability of high-cost US shale oil production. As
he explained in an interview:
Is it reasonable for a highly efficient producer to reduce output,
while the producer of poor efficiency continues to produce? That is
crooked logic. If I reduce, what happens to my market share? The price
will go up and the Russians, the Brazilians, US shale oil producers
will take my share... We want to tell the world that high-efficiency
producing countries are the ones that deserve market share. That is
the operative principle in all capitalist countries... One thing is
for sure: Current prices [roughly US$60/bbl] do not support all
A year later, when
OPEC met in
Vienna on 4 December 2015, the
organization had exceeded its production ceiling for 18 consecutive
months, US oil production had declined only slightly from its peak,
world markets appeared to be oversupplied by at least 2 million
barrels per day despite war-torn
Libya pumping 1 million barrels below
capacity, oil producers were making major adjustments to withstand
prices as low as the $40s,
Indonesia was rejoining the export
organization, Iraqi production had surged after years of disorder,
Iranian output was poised to rebound with the lifting of international
sanctions, hundreds of world leaders at the Paris Climate Agreement
were committing to limit carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and solar
technologies were becoming steadily more competitive and prevalent. In
light of all these market pressures,
OPEC decided to set aside its
ineffective production ceiling until the next ministerial conference
in June 2016. By 20 January 2016, the
OPEC Reference Basket was down to US$22.48/bbl – less than
one-fourth of its high from June 2014 ($110.48), less than one-sixth
of its record from July 2008 ($140.73), and back below the April 2003
starting point ($23.27) of its historic run-up.
As 2016 continued, the oil glut was partially trimmed with significant
production offline in the US, Canada, Libya,
Nigeria and China, and
the basket price gradually rose back into the $40s.
OPEC regained a
modest percentage of market share, saw the cancellation of many
competing drilling projects, maintained the status quo at its June
conference, and endorsed "prices at levels that are suitable for both
producers and consumers", although many producers were still
experiencing serious economic difficulties.
2017-2018 Production cut
OPEC members grew weary of a multi-year supply contest with
diminishing returns and shrinking financial reserves, the organization
finally attempted its first production cut since 2008. Despite many
political obstacles, a September 2016 decision to trim approximately 1
million barrels per day was codified by a new quota agreement at the
OPEC conference. The agreement (which exempted
Libya and Nigeria) covered the first half of
2017 – alongside promised reductions from
Russia and ten other
non-members, offset by expected increases in the US shale sector,
Libya, Nigeria, spare capacity, and surging late-2016
before the cuts took effect.
Indonesia announced another "temporary
suspension" of its
OPEC membership, rather than accepting the
organization's requested 5 percent production cut. Prices fluctuated
around US$50/bbl, and
OPEC in May 2017 decided to extend the new
quotas through March 2018, with the world waiting to see if and how
the oil inventory glut might be fully siphoned-off by
then. Longtime oil analyst Daniel
Yergin "described the relationship between
OPEC and shale as 'mutual
coexistence', with both sides learning to live with prices that are
lower than they would like."
In December 2017,
OPEC agreed to extend the production cut
of 1.8million barrels/day until the end of 2018.
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