Tuesday, February 22, 2011

OPEC Stability Watch

The above is a rough ranking of which countries seem most at risk of having their oil production reduced as a result of the wave of unrest at present in the Middle East.  The #1 risk at the moment would seem to be Libya, OPEC's 9th largest producer:

Libya appeared to slip further from the grip of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Tuesday, as clashes intensified in Tripoli and opposition forces in eastern Libya moved to consolidate control of the region.

Witnesses described the streets of Tripoli, the capital, as a war zone. In several neighborhoods of the city, including Fashloom, protesters tried to seal off the streets with makeshift barricades of scrap steel and other debris. Forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi had so far failed to surmount the barricades and young protesters appeared to be gathering rocks to throw in their defense in anticipation of a renewed attack.

Outside the barricades, militiamen and Bedouin tribesmen defending the strongman and his 40-year rule were stationed at intersections around the city. Many carried Kalashnikov assault rifles and an anti-aircraft gun was deployed in front of the state television headquarters.

“It is extremely tense,” one witness said, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals.
This doesn't sound like a good environment for producing oil... Here is the history of Libyan production, according to the EIA, JODI, and the IEA:

The main feature of the graph is the voluntary drop in production (along with most OPEC countries) during the great recession, since when production has been pretty flat.  There is some dissensus between the agencies on how much production really dropped.

Next most at risk is probably Algeria, OPEC #10, where protests continue to simmer, but not at the level of Libya or Egypt:
Hundreds of Algerians have turned out for anti-government protests in the capital Algiers, a week after thousands of demonstrators were confronted by 30,000 riot police at the same venue.

Three people have so far been arrested at May 1 Square, the focal point of protests, according to Elias Filali, an activist and blogger who spoke to Al Jazeera.

The square has been blocked by more than a thousand police officers, equipped with riot gear, who are trying to divide protesters into smaller groups. Helicopters are also reported to be flying overhead.

"The people have lost faith in this regime. This [protest] is a success because ... [protesters] have broken this barrier of fear," Filali said.

El Watan, an Algerian daily newspaper, reported on Saturday that train services in the country had been shut down completely, and that authorities have set up road blocks on the highway that links Tizi-Ouzou, Boumerdes and Bejaia to the capital.
The Algerian production profile looks very similar to the Libyan, except there is even more disagreement between the agencies than usual as to the level of Algerian production:

Finally, we have Iran, where the abortive Green Revolution of 2009 has come back to life, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt:
There are reports of renewed anti-government protests in Iran, with demonstrators taking to the streets in several cities across the country.

There have also been clashes between protesters and security forces, posts on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter said on Sunday. There were also reports of one protester being shot dead in Tehran, a story denied by government official in state media.

The official IRNA reported that Faezeh Rafsanjani, the daughter of ex-president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has been among those arrested for particiapting in the protest. Fars news agency reported that she was released shortly thereafter.

Protesters have apparently thronged Tehran's Vali-Asr and Enghelab squares. Similar demonstrations are being reported in Shiraz and Isfahan.

Reformist news sites said security forces were responding to the protests in some measure.

Rahesabz.net reported that a number of plainclothes Basij security forces, some on motorcycle, had arrived at the protest in Shiraz, carrying the flag of the Islamic republic. They also blocked the entrance to some streets.

A page on Facebook used to organise the protests also carried a post saying that security forces were beating protesters with batons and chains in the northern city of Rasht.

Citing witnesses inside the country, sources told Al Jazeera that plainclothes security forces were rounding up and taking away groups of protesters near Sharif University in Tehran, near Azadi Square.

The page also quoted witnesses as saying that tear gas had been used against protesters in Tehran, and the BBC Persian website said gunshots had been heard in the Abbas Abad area, west of Vali-Asr street.
Iran is OPEC's second largest producer, and would have a big impact on global production if it stopped:

Finally, I should note the following:  it's in the short term interest of global stability for these countries to continue to be stable under their existing regimes.  It's in the long term interest of global stability for them to be free and democratic.  I support their respective democracy movements, while at the same time wanting to track the considerable short term risks to civilization from so many revolutionary movements being active at the same time.


Burk said...

Hi, Stuart- With all due respect, the political attitude you exhibit still seems a bit wan. The main short-term risk to civilization would be for these revolts to be unsuccessful and crushed. Their civilizations have been blighted for far too long.

Our western civilization can take a few weeks (or months, or years) of reduced oil production. We have to get used to it sooner or later. And the civilization of the biosphere can hardly take another minute of us spewing CO2. The sooner it stops, the better.

Kamil said...

You can stop right now. Sell your car and stop breathing to reduce CO2 emissions. You can save us all.

Stuart Staniford said...

Burk - I agree with a lot of your statement. However, my concern is that a lot of what these revolts are about is food and fuel prices, and there is significant potential for a vicious circle. If oil production in Libya goes down (say) it's likely to increase both fuel and food prices everywhere else, making other revolts more likely. And while it's true that any one of the OPEC countries transitioning to democracy is an excellent thing, it's likely to be a messy process in at least some cases, and I'm not sure them all of them transitioning at about the same time is going to work out that great.

KLR said...

A graph at WTRG posted in 2004 suggests 7 and 5.9 mb/d spare capacity in 1978 and 1989, respectively. The revolution in Iran took 4.5 mb/d off the market, starting with strikes in the fall of '78. KSA minister says, once again, that we're "well supplied" = "WS." Will be interesting to see if they deliver if the need arises.

Stuart Staniford said...

To expand on my earlier comment, let me ask this - is there any reason that a transition to democracy in Libya is likely to go faster/better than it did in Iraq? It's one thing to kick out your autocrat - that's the easiest part. But then building democratic institutions and a culture of democracy amongst your elite - that's a whole different animal, and much more difficult.

We certainly have no right to tell these peoples not to try, but I think it's only prudent to anticipate that the process could be pretty bumpy.

Burk said...

Hi, Stuart-

Yes, you are absolutely correct. It could turn out badly. It just seems a little callous to be worried about "civilization" - i.e. our oil addiction wrenched from Libyan sands- while their people are dying in the streets seeking political freedom.

And if the Saudi people staged a revolt for increased religious and political freedom, I would be for that too, happily ignoring any difficulties that might cause to their oil production.

Emil said...

I share some of Stuart's sentiments.

Part of this is that revolution in the West has often been seen as the way to democracy(such as in France or the U.S.) but in the Middle East this is very rarely the case.

What will happen in places like Libya is either that there's a new strong man(just like Ghadaffi was installed in a revolution of his own) or an anti-democratic group like in Iran(although the Libyan version may be without the messianic elements).

This does not mean Arabs are 'incapable' of genuine democracy, only that given the regions past track record it's actually realistic not to assume too much deviation from BAU (regionally adapted).

A continued upheaval in this region would most likely disrupt our economic recovery substantially. Perhaps a new '08 crash, this time without bailout funds and Peak Oil more or less a fact of life.

Stuart Staniford said...


My guess is that we'll see a range of outcomes - just like the ending of communism produced a range of outcomes from places like the Czech republic or Estonia that transitioned to functioning market democracies relatively smoothly, to places like Uzbekistan that are autocratic. Russia itself is somewhere in between.

Stuart Staniford said...


Color me callous then :-)

However, I would point out that it won't be spoiled Americans that are hurt worst by an oil-shock - as usual, it will be poor people in poor countries that are hurt worst.