With Saudi Arabia moving to quell international outrage over the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by firing a handful of top intelligence officials and arresting more than a dozen Saudi nationals for alleged ties to the killing, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told Russia’s TASS news agency, in an attempt to reassure Russia and oil importers around the world that the kingdom's threats to "weaponize" oil by cutting production and sending oil prices to $200 a barrel were little more than empty rhetoric, published by a "rogue" op-ed writer one imagines.
Khalid said during the interview that Saudi Arabia has "no intention" of triggering a replay of the 1973 oil embargo which rocked the American economy by sending oil prices 4x higher, creating the first of a handful of "oil shocks" that become emblematic of the economic malaise that persisted for much of the 1970s in the US.
"There is no intention," Khalid al-Falih told Russia’s TASS news agency when asked if there could be a repetition of the 1973-style oil embargo.
Saudi Arabia has historically been reluctant to use its energy policy as a tool to meddle in international politics (the country only reluctantly went along with the OPEC embargo against the Western countries and Japan that backed Israel during the six-day war).
"This incident will pass. But Saudi Arabia is a very responsible country, for decades we used our oil policy as responsible economic tool and isolated it from politics," Falih said.
Falih's mandate from the Saudi government is to stabilize oil markets and "contribute to economic development", something that would in all likelihood grind to a halt if the kingdom helped send oil prices to $200 a barrel. Though Falih couldn't offer any guarantees that oil wouldn't climb above 100 b/d, as Saudi is already close to its max production capacity of 11 million b/d. He added that a new OPEC+ agreement must be signed at a meeting on Dec. 7.
"My role as the energy minister is to implement my government’s constructive and responsible role and stabilizing the world’s energy markets accordingly, contributing to global economic development."
"I cannot give you a guarantee, because I cannot predict what will happen to other suppliers," Falih said, when asked if the world can avoid oil prices hitting $100 per barrel again.
And if the US is so worried about oil prices, then it probably shouldn't have sanctioned Iran and Venezuela.
"We have sanctions on Iran, and nobody has a clue what Iranians export will be. Secondly, there are potential declines in different countries like Libya, Nigeria, Mexico and Venezuela," he said.
If 3 million b/d disappears from the global market, Saudi Arabia wouldn't be able to replace this supply.
"If 3 million barrels per day disappears, we cannot cover this volume. So we have to use oil reserves," he said.
"We have relatively limited spare capacities and we are using a significant part of them."
Though new capacity in Brazil, Kazakhstan and elsewhere could help offset the losses from Iran.
"But if you have other countries to decline in addition to the full application of Iran sanctions, then we will be pulling all spare capacities," Falih said.
For those who don't fully grasp the impact of $200 a barrel oil, Michael Snyder from the Economic Collapse blog explained how it would restrict consumer spending by sending the prices of all goods - not just energy products - higher.
If the price of oil did shoot up to $200 a barrel, that would be absolutely crippling for the U.S. economy.
You see, it wouldn’t just cost a whole lot more to fill up your gas tank. Virtually everything that we buy has to be transported vast distances, and so the price of gasoline must be factored into all of those products.
The price of food is already ridiculously high, and so I don’t even want to imagine what a trip to the grocery store might look like if the Saudis follow through on their threats.
But despite the US's hardening rhetoric (as US lawmakers continue to demand that something be done to hold Saudi Arabia accountable), it appears President Trump is ready to take the Saudis at their word for now. However, we still need to see what Turkish President Erdogan will reveal on Tuesday, when he promised to share the results of Turkey's investigation into the killing.
Both WTI and Brent are weakened off intraday highs, with Brent hovering around $69.50/bbl while WTI retests $80/bbl on the downside following Falih's remarks.