From Moscow to Riyadh and Washington, Understanding Oil Market Turmoil
The price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that saw U.S. oil prices sink to historic lows came to an end on April 12 as countries from around the globe continue to fight the COVID-19 outbreak and try to revive their economies amidst declining demands for energy. The deal restored the OPEC+ pact signed between Riyadh and Moscow in 2016 which collapsed in March when the two countries could not agree on production levels after the spread of the coronavirus cut global oil demand and slashed the price of crude.
Saudi Arabia had first attempted to decrease its already reduced production before flooding an already oversupplied market with crude. An agreement was reached to reduce output by 10 million barrels a day after a week of negotiations with the world’s major oil producers and the intervention of G-20 members including the United States.
However, it provided only a couple of days relief. Oil prices, particularly in the United States, plummeted to below zero dollars per barrel for the first time. Hundreds of U.S. oil companies now face the possibility of bankruptcy at a moment when the United States has become the largest oil producer in the world and is nearing energy self-sufficiency.
U.S. President Donald Trump praised the OPEC+ agreement, thanking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin for saving U.S. energy jobs and stabilizing the market, but crude oil continues to crash as companies await the OPEC+ output cuts starting May 1. The oil price crash drop also led to near-record drops in world stock markets.
A near term rebound in prices sufficient to save U.S. oil companies appears unlikely. If price does rebound, would they more likely enhance the market shares of Saudi Arabia and Russia in world energy markets rather than help U.S. companies? What does the great oil crash of 2020 mean for the U.S. oil industry? What challenges will U.S. producers confront in a different global energy market? How does the historic OPEC+ agreement shape the future of the triangular relationship between the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia?
Professor Brenda Shaffer (moderator), Ambassador Michael Gfoeller, and David H. Rundell.
Professor Brenda Shaffer
Senior Fellow, the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center; Visiting Researcher & Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University
Prof. Brenda Shaffer is a foreign policy and international energy specialist, focusing on global energy trends and policies, politics and energy in the South Caucasus and greater Caspian and Black Sea regions, Iranian natural gas exports, ethnic politics in Iran, and Eastern Mediterranean energy. She is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center in Washington, DC, and a visiting researcher and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. She is also a Senior Advisor to the FDD think tank on energy issues.
Prof. Shaffer is the author of several books: Energy Politics (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity (MIT Press, 2002) and Partners in Need: The Strategic Relationship of Russia and Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001). Energy Politics is used as a textbook in over 200 university courses around the globe. She has also served as the editor for Beyond the Resource Curse (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) and Limits of Culture: Islam and Foreign Policy (MIT Press, 2006).
Prof. Shaffer frequently provides research and expert counsel to international institutions, governments, energy companies, and regional security organizations. She has given testimony to several committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and to the European Parliament. She frequently appears on Bloomberg TV and in major news outlets worldwide to provide insight on developments in the global oil market.
Ambassador Michael Gfoeller (ret.)
Ambassador Gfoeller is an independent consultant on foreign affairs, international security, and international economics. He consults at present for several major American industrial and financial firms with involvement in the Middle East.
He was head of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) affairs at ExxonMobil’s International Government Relations Department from 2010 to 2012.
From 1984 to 2010, he served as a U.S. diplomat. He retired from government services with the rank of Ambassador. His career included service in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Manama, Bahrain; Iraq; Moscow, Russia; Yerevan, Armenia; Chisinau, Moldova; Warsaw, Poland; and Brussels, Belgium. He traveled widely on official assignments throughout the Middle East and Eurasia.
Ambassador Gfoeller served as the Senior Political Advisor to General David Petraeus at U.S. Central Command from 2008 to 2010, focusing on counter-terrorism, international security and diplomacy in former Soviet Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf.
From 2004 to 2008, he served as a Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargés d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he coordinated inter-agency, counter-terrorism, and counter-insurgency efforts.
He served as Political Adviser and Regional Coordinator for South Central Iraq in the Coalition Provisional Authority from 2003 to 2004.
He taught at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy from 2000 to 2001. While there, he wrote a book on the politics of the Caucasus and Central Asia entitled “United by the Caspian.” It was published in two editions by Georgetown University.
His foreign languages include Arabic, Russian, Polish, French, German, Romanian, Greek, Latin, and Coptic.
He founded and heads the non-profit Gfoeller Renaissance Foundation, which has conducted larger-scale archaeological and paleontological excavation in the Caucasus in a corporation with several major European American universities and institutes. He has sponsored extensive research into human evolution biodiversity and bio-preservation.
Ambassador Gfoeller is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Cosmos Club, and Union League Club. He is married to Ambassador Tatiana C. Gfoeller-Volkoff. They have one son, Cpt. Emmanuel Gfoeller, an Army Ranger.
David Rundell served as an American diplomat for thirty years, fifteen of which were spent in Saudi Arabia. He worked at the Embassy in Riyadh as well as the Consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran. His assignments included Chief of Mission, Deputy Chief of Mission, Political Counselor, Economic Counselor, and Commercial Counselor. This is a unique record for an American diplomat, not only in Saud Arabia, but in any country.
David helped negotiate Saudi entry into the World Trade Organization. He made a crucial contribution to obtaining five-year reciprocal visas for American and Saudi travelers. He conceived and helped implement the Joint Commission for Critical Infrastructure Protection which has strengthened Saudi American relations as well as global energy security. He won numerous awards for his analysis and reporting from Saudi Arabia including four Superior Honor Awards and the Cox award given each year to the Foreign Service Office who has made the greatest contribution to American trade policy.
After leaving the State Department in 2010 David worked as a business strategy consultant for Monitor Deloitte for five years. In Saudi Arabia, this included work with the Saudi Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saudi Aramco, the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), and the Saudi Arabian General Investment Agency (SAGIA). For the past five years, David has been a partner in Arabia Analytica a consulting firm based in New York, Washington and Dubai. His new book Vision or Mirage, Saudi Arabia at a Crossroads will be published by Bloomsbury in New York and London this fall.
David holds a B.A. cum laude in economics from Colgate University and a M.Phil. in Middle East Studies from Oxford University. He lives in London and Dubai with his wife and daughter.
Also relevant to this discussion, David has been actively engaged in the production of oil and gas in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico for over 30 years.