Jul 11, 2012 3:45 PM GMT
Exciting times we live in. For those interested in geopolitics -
The Biggest Losers
If the US, Canada and Israel are the likeliest big winners, the biggest losers in the coming shift will be the Gulf petro-states and Russia. Their Gulf losses aren’t going to be economic; the Gulf will still have the world’s cheapest oil to produce and so its oilfields will be the most profitable at any given price point.
Russia, on the other hand, is going to have a harder time. Its oil and gas are more expensive to produce and so Russia’s profit margins are likely to fall.
But regardless of the simple economic impact, in different ways and different degrees the Gulf countries and Russia are going to lose a lot of the political advantages that their energy wealth now gives them. They will have less ability to restrict supply and to manipulate prices than they have had in the past. Oil and gas are going to be less special when supplies are more abundant and more broadly distributed.
The unexpected success of the economic sanctions on Iran show how this process works. Rising production in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States enabled the world to do something most people would have thought impossible in the golden age of OPEC. Iran’s oil sales have been cut by something like 40 percent even as world crude prices fell. Iran’s Supreme Leader believed that the world needed his oil so much that the US could never get the Europeans and others to agree to serious sanctions. He was like Jefferson Davis in 1860, who believed that Britain and France needed Confederate cotton so badly that they would force the North to recognize Confederate independence.
The Supreme Leader, like Davis, was wrong. The world survived without Confederate cotton, and the world is surviving with less oil from Iran. In fact, even as Iranian production declined, world oil prices fell.
What Iran is discovering today, others will feel tomorrow. Since the 1970s, the states on both sides of the Gulf have been central to all kinds of global issues, and the great powers have focused enormous amounts of time and attention on their wants and needs. As the energy revolution proceeds, they won’t completely sink into insignificance (and the US concern to protect the independence of countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the rest won’t disappear), but the days when the world hung on every word that fell from the lips of OPEC are gone.