Oil and Gas

The OPEC+ spat is likely to be resolved 'sooner rather than later,' energy analyst says

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Key Points
  • OPEC and its allies left the oil market hanging on Monday when they indefinitely postponed talks to resolve a disagreement over production curbs.
  • But at least one energy analyst expects a breakthrough to come soon.
  • OPEC is the strongest it has been in years, and they would not want to "upset the applecart," said Stephen Schork of The Schork Group.
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OPEC may allow Saudi Arabia and UAE to increase their oil production: Analyst

OPEC and its allies left the oil market hanging on Monday when they indefinitely postponed talks to resolve a disagreement over production curbs.

Crude prices first surged to six-year highs, then retreated, and uncertainty continues to hang over future OPEC+ policy.

But at least one energy analyst expects a breakthrough to come soon.

"I think it's highly likely [that] it's going to resolve itself," said Stephen Schork, a principal advisor at energy analysis company The Schork Group.

OPEC is the strongest it has been in years, and they would not want to "upset the applecart," he told "Street Signs Asia" on Thursday.

Conflict in OPEC

The energy alliance met last week to discuss output policy, but the UAE unexpectedly blocked proposals to increase supply and extend the remaining production cuts to the end of 2022, instead of April 2022 as previously agreed.

Suhail Al Mazrouei, UAE's energy minister, told CNBC on Sunday that it "wasn't a good deal" because the output cuts were measured against a baseline of 2018 production levels.

The country has increased its production capacity, but cannot pump more oil while the OPEC agreement remains in place. It wants this baseline to be revised.

An OPEC sign hangs outside the OPEC Secretariat in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 29, 2017.
Akos Stiller | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Russia is reportedly attempting to negotiate a resolution.

Neil Beveridge, a senior oil analyst at Bernstein, said OPEC policy has been focused on controlling supply to manage prices.

But the UAE sees that peak oil demand is "staring OPEC in the face" and is considering chasing market share instead of high energy prices, he told "Capital Connection" on Thursday, and that's why it wants to be given a higher quota.

$50 oil versus $100 oil

Observers say two scenarios are possible if OPEC doesn't reach a new deal. The first is that of a price collapse.

Beveridge noted that OPEC is sitting on nearly 6 million barrels of spare capacity now. If countries decide to increase supply and go for market share, the downside could be "significant," he said.

"We can see oil prices certainly drop back below $50 again … pretty quickly, if that [happens]," he said.

Why mess around with, potentially, a price war?
Stephen Schork
The Schork Group

The second scenario is one where countries continue to produce oil according to the quotas that were previously agreed on. Oil prices would spike, possibly as high as $100 per barrel, with demand outpacing supply.

OPEC probably doesn't want to rock the boat in either direction, according to Schork.

"They are in a very nice position at this point," he said. "Why mess around with, potentially, a price war?"

On the other hand, too-high oil prices are not ideal. "The higher we go, you'll start to hear the political winds turn against them, especially here in the United States," he added.

Resolution?

Schork said he believes the UAE will be allowed to increase production, and the country will stick to their quota.

"They just want a bigger share of OPEC's prize," he said.

Bernstein's Beveridge, however, said there is a risk that other OPEC+ members will want to raise their production quotas.

"That could lead to a whole unravelling of the OPEC agreement that we have … and that would certainly point to very significant downside [for] prices," he said.

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OPEC agreement may be jeopardized if UAE raises oil quota: Bernstein

The deal only works if everyone is committed to it, he said, but noted that there has been "very good compliance" from OPEC members over the last 12 months.

In the long term, Schork said the oil-producing alliance would benefit from the energy transition.

"As western oil companies trip over themselves in the years ahead — and they're already doing it now — to decarbonize, OPEC's share of the global oil market is going to continue to grow," he said, adding that oil demand is likely to increase until the end of the decade.

"It behooves all players on the OPEC side to play nicely, so yes I do think we'll see a resolution to the situation sooner rather than later," he said.

— CNBC's Sam Meredith, Weizhen Tan and Dan Murphy contributed to this report