As the big guns of the oil industry gather in London this week for International Petroleum week, talk has been largely of two things: the effect of Middle East unrest on the oil price and how to improve its reputation, especially after Macondo.
I have just sat through a session entitled: “Restoring the industry’s licence to operate in the face of increasing public and political scrutiny”.
In it, Andrew Griffin, CEO of a PR company called Regester Larkin, explained how the Macondo spill showed that the oil industry needed to do more to explain its importance to the public. This, he said, would help protect companies’ reputations in the case of an accident or other negative event.
As the oil price continues to surge, hitting $109 a barrel, the oil price movement for 2011 has begun to look very much like that in 2008, when the price ended up hitting $145, and became a contributing factor to the slump.
But Leo Drollas, chief economist at the Centre for Global Energy Studies, thinks it won’t, even though there are many similarities with the situation in 2008, including high oil demand.
It is a very dangerous game to try and predict what will happen next in the Middle East and North Africa at the moment, so I report this with all the usual caveats. But John Roberts, an energy security specialist at Platts, has been watching the region for a long time, and he thinks that the possible removal of Muammar Gaddafi blows apart a lot of long-held assumptions about the region.
The key assumption as far as Libya was concerned was that with high oil revenues and a small population, Gaddafi was safe. If trouble started, he could always bribe people into remaining quiet – as he appears to have done recently, reportedly increasing wages and loans on offer to Libyans.
Colonel Gaddafi’s rather strange television appearance last night failed to quell the Libyan insurrection, and this morning has seen a mounting number of oil companies depart the country and the oil price continue to surge.
The news for Opec in the short term is bad, with Libya currently accounting for 1.6m barrels a day of oil production. In the long term, it could be even worse, however, especially if trouble spreads to Kuwait, with 2.3m b/d, Iran, with 3.7m, or even the big one – Saudi Arabia, with 8.3m.