Oil markets may have to brace for 'greater disruption,' says strategist

Key Points
  • Concerns about unrest in Libya, as well as sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, could add to worries about the "potential for greater disruption" ahead for oil markets, according to JTD Energy Services' John Driscoll.
  • Oil prices scaled new heights for the year on Monday, with the gains continuing in the afternoon of Asian trading hours on Tuesday.
There's 'potential for greater disruption' in the oil markets: Strategist
There's 'potential for greater disruption' in the oil markets: Strategist

As oil prices climbed to multi-month highs on Tuesday, one strategist warned of the "potential for greater disruption" ahead for crude markets.

"It's almost like 2011, when (former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi) was toppled. If ... Libya comes into play, that's only going to add more tightness to the market," John Driscoll, chief strategist at JTD Energy Services, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday.

Driscoll's comments came amid a recent violent resurgence in Libya, a key oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Rebel forces loyal to renegade leader General Khalifa Hifter, who effectively controls the country's breakaway east, launched a surprise attack against the home of Libya's UN-recognized government last week. The move risks plunging the country back into civil war.

Reports also surfaced overnight that the airport in Libya's capital, Tripoli, had been hit by air strikes.

In addition to concerns over the ongoing conflict in Libya, Driscoll cited Venezuela and Iran as other potential sources of risks for the oil markets.

For Venezuela, he said: "Things are terrible there, oil output is plummeting, then you've got this wave of electrical outages that have halved their exports."

In January, the U.S. slapped sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA in an attempt to oust President Nicolas Maduro as he jostles for power with opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Don't see oil prices going back above $80, Goldman Sachs says
Don't see oil prices going back above $80, Goldman Sachs says

Meanwhile, Washington continues to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran, with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday labeling Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization — the first time America has formally labeled another country's military a terrorist group.

Tensions between the two countries have sizzled since the U.S. withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with Iran. The administration also reimposed sanctions on Tehran's crude exports, dealing a blow to the Iranian economy.

Commenting on recent statements made by individuals such as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the "complete obliteration of Iranian exports," Driscoll said that goal was "unrealistic" and "possibly even delusional."

"As oil prices rise, it's going to be harder to keep that oil off the market," he said. "It will find an outlet."

Driscoll said that in the "black swan event" that Tehran loses patience with Washington and attempts to close the Strait of Hormuz — a critical sea passage for crude oil shipments, it would result in the loss of a "critical choke point where 30 percent of the world's oil and gas passes."

Oil prices scaled to new 2019 highs on Monday, with the international benchmark Brent crude futures contract adding 1.1 percent to settle at $71.10 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also rose 2.1 percent to settle at $64.40 per barrel.

In Asian afternoon trade on Tuesday, Brent rose fractionally to $71.13 and U.S. crude futures increased by 0.2 percent at $64.53 per barrel.

"When I was on the show a month ago, I said we are going to breach $70 on Brent but it will be short-lived," Driscoll said.

"Well, let me amend that, I think this one has got a bit more legs," he said. "Libya has come back into play, Iran, Venezuela, it's all getting stronger.

— Reuters and CNBC's Natasha Turak contributed to this report.