Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia and other countries that heavily rely on oil revenues are getting more desperate as crude prices languish, said Daniel Yergin, a leading expert international politics, energy and economics.
"This day of reckoning is here," he warned on Thursday.
But a production-cut deal among OPEC countries and the Russians appears unlikely in the near term, Yergin told CNBC's "Squawk Box."
He said the Gulf producers don't seem interested. "I was on a panel with the chairman of Saudi Aramco a couple weeks ago and he said we don't want to cut to make room for others," namely Iran, which re-entered the market after years of sanctions were lifted last month.
To cope with depressed oil prices, which could be exacerbated by new Iranian supply, there have been recent rumblings that Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, may sell at least part of its operations in an initial public offering.
Meanwhile, Russia is looking to sell stakes in some of the nation's largest companies to deal with a crippling recession, largely due to lower oil revenue, which according to Yergin makes up about half the budget.
"That's a bell that shows you that this day of reckoning is here, as countries try to figure and their budget[s], try to pull themselves out of what are turning into deep recessions," he said.
As the U.S. emerges as a major oil player, America could become the "inadvertent swing producer," the vice chairman of consultancy group IHS said.
If crude prices stay low, U.S. output could decline further and help rebalance the market in the second half of the year, he said, predicting a per-barrel range of $40 to $50 by the end of 2016.
On the other hand, he added: "You will see activity increase as prices go up. [But] these big, long projects that are being postponed or canceled, they'll be much slower to coming back."
Earlier this week, oilman Boone Pickens said on "Squawk Box" he believes U.S. crude has already hit bottom at just above $26 per barrel. And based on history after a floor is set, he said oil prices should double within 12 months.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized which countries Daniel Yergin said are getting more desperate as crude prices languish.