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A Halliburton oil well fielder works on a well head at a fracking rig site January 27, 2016 near Stillwater, Oklahoma.
U.S. oil production jumped to a record 11.6 million barrels a day last week, and rising U.S. output is a factor that could prompt OPEC members and allies to react when they meet over the weekend.
Oil prices have cratered amid concerns of a global supply glut, and the jump in U.S. output to a point where it is now surpassing Russia, in addition to Saudi Arabia, only adds to these concerns. West Texas Intermediate futures are now down 20 percent from the near four-year high reached on Oct. 3.
U.S. production is up a stunning 2 million barrels a day from the same period last year, and 400,000 barrels from the week earlier, based on weekly U.S. government data. Weekly numbers are often revised, but the higher production figure is in line with growing U.S. output expectations. The U.S. government expects October production was 11.4 million barrels a day and expects production can grow to 12.1 million barrels a day on average next year.
“US crude oil production was recorded at a new record high, and the largest in the world by far, moving ahead of Russia and closer to the level Saudi Arabia might be able to reach in another six months,” wrote Citigroup energy analyst Eric Lee.
OPEC’s Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee will meet this weekend in Abu Dhabi, ahead of next month’s broader meeting in Vienna, and production levels are expected to be discussed. Saudi Arabia, de facto leader of OPEC, and Russia had agreed to raise production ahead of U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil, and the joint committee could decide to recommend lowering production.
The committee could make a recommendation that would be acted on at OPEC’s December meeting. Reuters quoted sources saying OPEC and its allies could not rule out a return to production cuts next year.
Helima Croft, head of RBC global commodities strategy, said there’s been increasing talk that OPEC and Russia are concerned about supply and may want to cut because they front loaded production ahead of U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil, which went into effect Monday.
President Donald Trump had called on Saudi Arabia to use its surplus capacity to add oil to the market ahead of the sanctions. Trump this week said he didn’t want the Iran sanctions to drive oil prices higher. “If you’re the Saudis and you are concerned, you have to figure out how far you can let this go,” Croft said. “They did all of Trump’s heavy lifting for him. They rushed in to put all the barrels on the market in anticipation of a U.S. policy.”
U.S. production has surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia. Analysts say Russian production is about 11.4 million barrels a day, and Saudi Arabia production is up to abut 10.7 million barrels, after it upped production to compensate for the potential of Iran barrels coming off the market.
Prior to early October, oil prices had been rising as Venezuela supply continued to dwindle and Iranian barrels came off the market. West Texas Intermediate crude futures topped out at $76.90 in early October. Croft estimates there are about 1 million barrels of Iranian oil removed from the market daily.
Croft said the market has been overly negative about supply, and is underestimating the effect of U.S. sanctions because the U.S. granted some buyers of Iranian crude exemptions. For instance, China has a waiver allowing it to temporarily purchase 360,000 barrels of Iranian oil. But China is cutting back its purchases, while analysts had expected China to continue buying Iranian oil and even add to its purchases.
John Kilduff, partner with Again Capital, said he expects OPEC to take some action to stem a possible new supply glut, now that the U.S. election is over.
“Some in OPEC are blaming Russia and Saudi Arabia for a $15 fall in the oil price and are calling on them to cut production by 1 million barrels a day immediately, ” said Kilduff. “There’s going to be some fireworks at this meeting. The price fall over the last four weeks has been so swift and dramatic that it’s definitely getting their attention.”
Kilduff said it’s unclear whether Russia would reduce its production, which is at a record high. Russian oil companies have long opposed the production agreement with OPEC.
The surge in prices ahead of October had encouraged increased U.S. drilling. “This looks to be engendering an OPEC response this weekend,” he said.
In addition to ramping up output, the U.S. has been exporting more crude. The U.S. exported 2.4 million barrels a day of crude last week, and nearly 5 million barrels of condensates and refined products, like gasoline and diesel.
“Most of it went out of the country. We’re exporting our bounty,” said Kilduff. “I think there’s the beginnings of a glut…If you look at the futures, the prices are higher in future months, which is an indicator of oversupply.”
Croft said the extra barrels are being absorbed by the markets and for now, it is not oversupplied.
But she added, ‘they have be concerned about going into 2019 when Permian bottleneck ease.” The most prolific U.S. oil field, the Permian basin in Texas, has successfully been adding production, at a much faster pace than infrastructure to take oil away. Those problems are expected to ease next year with new pipeline capacity.