Ahmed Mehdi

Research Associate

Ahmed Mehdi is an energy consultant who advises oil companies and trading houses on oil and gas pricing, country strategy and energy economics. He previously acted as an advisor to BHP Petroleum’s strategy division and spent several years working with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in London. Ahmed comments widely on energy issues in the media, including the New York Times, Bloomberg, Foreign Affairs, Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), Petroleum Economist and S&P Global Platts. He is the founder of the London-based Commodities Intelligence Network. Ahmed was educated at the University of Oxford and University College London.

Contact

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                    [post_date] => 2020-07-08 11:08:13
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                    [post_content] => Iraq is no stranger to oil price volatility or economic and political crisis. The country has faced the oil price crash of 2014, fought a costly, two-year war against ISIS, suffered growing electricity shortages, security threats, protests, (inter) party-political fragmentation and severe economic and financial constraints. Despite these multiple, concurrent hurdles, oil production has nearly doubled over the last decade.

In this light, what makes this year's oil crisis so unique for Iraq?

This Comment provides a forensic examination of the key challenges facing Iraq's oil and energy economy and how these issues are set to interact with oil and energy policy decision-making.

The Comment considers the operational challenges of OPEC+ cuts, the negative cycle of lower oil prices on the country's economy and the long-term implications of the crisis on the country's oil and gas sector.
                    [post_title] => Compounding crises: Iraq's oil and energy economy
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                    [post_content] => Even before the arrival of Covid-19, the pricing mechanisms available for the multi-billion-dollar East of Suez crude trading market were already in flux. From Saudi Aramco’s decision to adjust its Asia pricing formulae in 2018 to Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) announcing the launch of a new crude futures contract (Murban futures) late last year – the Middle East-Asia crude pricing system has clearly grown in complexity, highlighting the importance of benchmarks as tools of price discovery.

For all the key East of Suez oil pricing players – traders, oil companies, governments, and Price Reporting Agencies (PRAs) – the demand shock due to Covid-19 was the perfect stress test, as it unravelled the DNA of existing benchmarks.

It is against this backdrop that this Comment examines how the region’s key benchmarks – Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME) Oman futures and Platts Dubai/Oman – performed and whether or not they worked as tools of price discovery. While the oil market is now charting its route to recovery, the consequences of the crisis on the region’s pricing system will continue to reverberate for years to come.
                    [post_title] => Middle East Benchmark Pricing and the Oil Crisis
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                    [post_content] => With the market having shrugged off the latest escalation between the United States and Iran, some of the aftershocks of recent events have heightened the risk of future US-Iran rivalry playing out in Iraq - OPEC’s second largest producer and a key source of oil supply growth out to 2030.

Next month’s decision by Washington as to whether or not to renew US sanctions waivers allowing Iraq to import Iranian gas volumes will provide clues as to whether recent events prove a geopolitical game-changer (or not) to Iraq’s oil (and energy) sector.

As this comment explains, Iraq’s post 2009 oil production growth took place against the backdrop of major challenges (a difficult investment environment, fiscal crises, protests, and a volatile security and geopolitical environment).

In this light, a sober assessment of Iraq’s oil outlook needs to consider how any structural shift to Iraq’s geopolitical position interacts with pre-existing challenges to the next chapter of production growth: deflationary forces in the oil market; the growing cost and complexity of upstream operations; the growing need for water to maintain and increase oil output; and the need to integrate upstream growth with midstream and downstream development.
                    [post_title] => The Soleimani Effect: A Game-Changer for Iraqi Crude Dynamics?
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                    [post_content] => The need for a new marker for East of Suez crude oil pricing has dominated debate in oil trading circles over the past several years. The latest opening salvo has been launched by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), currently in the process of laying out a roadmap to launch a light crude reference marker of its own – both to price its own exports and to develop a regional benchmark in the Middle East, to reflect shifting Asian fundamentals and shifts in global crude oil flows. Underpinning this ambition is the role of Murban – a light high-sulphur crude oil (40° API gravity and 0.7% sulphur) produced onshore in Abu Dhabi.

What is driving the move? How has Middle East crude pricing evolved and is Murban a viable candidate for regional benchmark status? This Comment seeks to answer these questions and to examine the challenges and next steps required for ADNOC to promote the grade to benchmark status.

As this Comment argues, the Middle East is not a region that changes its pricing system quickly: the road to establishing Murban as a viable benchmark is still long and many challenges lie ahead. Nevertheless, the desire to establish a Murban benchmark clearly shows that the pricing regimes in the Gulf and in Asia cannot be immune to the structural shift in trade flows and the rising power of Asia. Furthermore, if the Gulf producers want to avoid pricing power shifting to Asian consumers, they have no choice but to continue to innovate and offer attractive solutions to their key customers.
                    [post_title] => Murban: A benchmark for the Middle East?
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                    [post_content] => Iraq has been a key contributor to OPEC liquids growth, with IOCs in southern Iraq having added approximately 1.7–1.8 mb/d (million barrels per day) in the period 2011–16. With renewed focus on medium-heavy sour markets in light of OPEC output policy, geopolitical supply-side disruptions and Asian refining dynamics, Iraq’s future role in oil markets is of critical importance. This paper provides a comprehensive assessment of Iraq’s short-medium term production outlook by assessing the interplay between upstream, midstream and downstream trends.  This interplay will take place against the backdrop of Iraq’s changing crude quality, delays to increasing onshore storage and pumping capacity, the growing need for water for oil injection needs, and the growing requirement for Iraq to upgrade existing refineries to meet both refined product demand and to manage the changing quality of crude feedstock as production growth gets heavier.
                    [post_title] => Iraqi Oil: industry evolution and short and medium-term prospects
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                    [post_content] => The Kremlin has turned its foreign policy strategy back to an old Soviet source of geopolitical influence—the Middle East. The United States’ decision to abandon its role as regional underwriter in chief over the course of Barack Obama’s second presidential term, as evidenced by a series of U-turns on Syria and the decision to indirectly support a regional rebalancing of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran following the lifting of nuclear sanctions in 2016, has allowed the Kremlin to claim a stake in the Middle East’s conflict hot spots, as well as to insert its energy sector at the heart of the region’s oil and gas markets.

Henderson, J. and Mehdi, A. (2017, June). ‘Russia’s Middle East Energy diplomacy’, Foreign Affairs.
                    [post_title] => Russia’s Middle East Energy diplomacy
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            [post_content] => Iraq is no stranger to oil price volatility or economic and political crisis. The country has faced the oil price crash of 2014, fought a costly, two-year war against ISIS, suffered growing electricity shortages, security threats, protests, (inter) party-political fragmentation and severe economic and financial constraints. Despite these multiple, concurrent hurdles, oil production has nearly doubled over the last decade.

In this light, what makes this year's oil crisis so unique for Iraq?

This Comment provides a forensic examination of the key challenges facing Iraq's oil and energy economy and how these issues are set to interact with oil and energy policy decision-making.

The Comment considers the operational challenges of OPEC+ cuts, the negative cycle of lower oil prices on the country's economy and the long-term implications of the crisis on the country's oil and gas sector.
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Latest Publications by Ahmed Mehdi