OPEC, the oil producers’ cartel, will reap $1,000 billion in export revenues this year for the first time if crude prices remain above $100 a barrel, according to the International Energy Agency.
The cartel has been one of the main beneficiaries of high oil prices, which have soared in recent weeks amid the civil uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa.
Brent crude was trading at $115 a barrel on Tuesday.
Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, said a new assessment by the rich nations’ oil watchdog showed that the total number of barrels exported by OPEC in 2011 would be slightly lower than in 2008, when cartel oil revenues reached $990 billion. But if average prices remain around $100 a barrel, OPEC’s oil revenues will still reach a record of $1,000 billion this year.
“It would be the first time in the history of OPEC that oil revenues have reached a trillion dollars. It’s mainly because of higher prices and higher production,” Mr Birol said in a Financial Times interview. “However, Saudi Arabia has made substantial efforts to calm down the oil markets by increasing production and hinder prices from going higher.”
The estimate, based on total OPEC production including natural gas liquids, does not take inflation into account. “Depending on your choice of specific inflation adjustment, the 2008 number may be slightly higher [in real terms],” Mr Birol said.
Many of OPEC's biggest producers are using the price gains to increase public spending, partly to guard against popular unrest. Saudi Arabia announced a multiyear spending package of $129 billion and is expected to spend about $35 billion in 2011.
This largesse means the country now needs an oil price of $83 per barrel in order to balance its national budget this year. “The more they earn, the more they tend to spend. So the oil price they need is ratcheted up,” said Leonidas Drollas, chief economist at the Centre for Global Energy Studies in London.
Brad Bourland, chief economist at Jadwa, an investment house in Riyadh, predicted in a note to clients that “unless the [Saudi] government takes measures to reduce spending... ?we assume this breakeven price will rise in subsequent years”.
Another beneficiary from high oil prices is Russia. Mr Birol noted that if oil prices remain at an average of $100 a barrel, Moscow’s oil and gas revenues could increase by about $100 billion to $350 billion – equivalent to 21 percent of Russia’s GDP.
High oil prices have “started to hurt the global economy”, Mr Birol said, adding that he is “very worried for OECD countries, especially Europe”.
The IEA is also concerned about the impact the current unrest is having on oil-sector investment in the Middle East and north Africa, which it expects to contribute about 90 percent of production growth over the next 10 years.
“For this to happen, we need to invest now but I see the current geopolitical situation as a major handicap for making the right amount of investments,” Mr Birol said.