Ahmed Mehdi

Visiting Research Fellow

Ahmed Mehdi is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES) where his work focuses on oil market fundamentals, Middle East oil and product pricing, and the geopolitics of energy markets. He was co-editor of the Oxford Energy Forum (OEF) issue(s) Middle East Oil Pricing Systems in Flux and The Geopolitics of Energy: Out with the Old and in with the New?

Alongside his role at OIES, Ahmed serves as an advisor to a number of US and Middle East oil companies and trading houses. He also serves as a Distinguished Associate at Facts Global Energy (FGE) and Principal at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, the world’s leading pricing agency dedicated to battery metals. Ahmed previously acted as an advisor to BHP Petroleum and has worked in the deals advisory team for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in London. Ahmed regularly writes and comments for the media, including the New York Times, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Foreign Affairs, Petroleum Economist, S&P Global Platts and Middle East Economic Survey (MEES). Ahmed was educated at the University of Oxford and University College London.

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After weeks of tensions, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine, prompting an international sanctions response targeting Russia’s economy but not directly its oil supplies or energy payments. But as sanctions on Russia intensified and as financial institutions started to refuse financing Russia-related transactions, including opening letters of credit or clearing payments and as some companies became reluctant to purchase Russian crude, Brent on March 2 (the time of writing) was trading above $110 for the first time since 2014.

Looking forward the market focus should not only be on whether the oil sector will be directly targeted by sanctions, but also the crescendo effect of self-sanctioning along the oil supply chain all the way from marketing to financing to shipping. Fears over energy sanctions and the ambiguity over the banking sanctions have already seen companies avoid purchasing Russian barrels, pushing prices to new multiyear highs and shaving-off shock mitigation policies such as the SPR releases. Also, it has become clear that traders holding Russian crude on their books are struggling to clear cargoes and this has been reflected in widening differentials and rising shipping and insurance costs. 

The next stages for Russian crude supplies are highly uncertain but some possible impacts include:

- Massive shifts in trade flows and sharp adjustments in price differentials to reflect shifts in Russian crude exports. Particularly, there could be a greater re-redirection of flows from Europe to Asia, but there are limits to such re-direction and not all Urals previously destined to Europe will flow into Asia.

- Russian oil companies could offer sweeteners to buyers to make their barrels more attractive, for instance shifting cargoes from FOB to CFR basis. Also, in response to more extensive self-sanctioning, Urals and ESPO could be offered at discounts so large that cargoes would eventually clear, potentially as masked cargoes or via ship-to-ship transfers. But there are limits to this strategy given the large volumes of Russian exports and the intensification and widening of sanctions.

- Self-sanctioning escalates over the coming weeks leading to a reduction in Russian production and supply disruptions at a larger scale. 

In the current environment of ever rising tensions, one should also not also exclude the possibility that in an escalation situation where Russia struggles to clear its barrels, weaponizing energy becomes the next chapter in Russia’s ongoing standoff with the West. As these are still early days, a scenario in which Russian oil supplies get disrupted in a sudden manner should also be considered. This will exert significant pressure on both market balances and prices in the near-term and for most of 2022. In the short term, potential responses to ease the price pressure are likely to come from the supply side. The current plan of OPEC+ to return withheld supplies back to market, Iran fully returning to the market and non-OPEC production growth particularly in North America accelerating, these combined supply responses can help fill any potential supply gap. The planned SPR releases will offer little support to a potential shortfall. But in such scenario the demand responses will also play their role and become more visible beyond the near-term. In terms of products, the market and refiners appear less flexible faced with constraints both in terms of costs and feedstock availability. Also, the impacts of the current shock will extend beyond the short-term and beyond balances and prices. The recent crisis will elevate energy security (including oil security) in policy makers’ agenda with long-term consequences for governments’ energy policies including their energy transition.

[post_title] => Russia-Ukraine crisis: Implications for global oil markets [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => russia-ukraine-crisis-implications-for-global-oil-markets [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-03-02 16:58:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-03-02 16:58:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.oxfordenergy.org/?post_type=publications&p=44604 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => publications [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 43647 [post_author] => 111 [post_date] => 2021-04-27 11:10:08 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-04-27 10:10:08 [post_content] => In November 2020, ahead of annual term contract negotiations, Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) announced it would further split its crude streams from two into three by launching a new export grade: Basrah Medium. Having been launched in January 2021, what were the key drivers behind the move? What are the implications of the move for International Oil Companies (IOCs) who regularly lift Iraqi crude? How has the new grade been priced? This Comment provides a snapshot into the opaque world of Iraqi crude marketing and the key strategic challenges – and choices - ahead for OPEC’s second largest producer. [post_title] => The second split: Basrah Medium and the challenge of Iraqi crude quality [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-second-split-basrah-medium-and-the-challenge-of-iraqi-crude-quality [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-04-27 11:10:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-04-27 10:10:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.oxfordenergy.org/?post_type=publications&p=43647 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => publications [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 39220 [post_author] => 111 [post_date] => 2020-07-08 11:08:13 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-07-08 10:08:13 [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 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => compounding-crises-iraqs-oil-and-energy-economy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-07-08 11:08:13 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-07-08 10:08:13 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.oxfordenergy.org/?post_type=publications&p=39220 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => publications [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 38440 [post_author] => 111 [post_date] => 2020-06-09 12:24:54 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-06-09 11:24:54 [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 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => middle-east-benchmark-pricing-and-the-oil-crisis [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-06-09 17:36:37 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-06-09 16:36:37 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.oxfordenergy.org/?post_type=publications&p=38440 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => publications [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 34489 [post_author] => 111 [post_date] => 2020-01-13 10:36:29 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-01-13 10:36:29 [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? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-soleimani-effect-a-game-changer-for-iraqi-crude-dynamics [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-01-13 10:36:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-01-13 10:36:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.oxfordenergy.org/?post_type=publications&p=34489 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => publications [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 31931 [post_author] => 111 [post_date] => 2019-10-02 10:38:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-10-02 09:38:16 [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? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => murban-a-benchmark-for-the-middle-east [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-02 10:38:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-02 09:38:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.oxfordenergy.org/?post_type=publications&p=31931 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => publications [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 31246 [post_author] => 111 [post_date] => 2018-10-24 10:53:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-10-24 09:53:32 [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 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => iraqi-oil-industry-evolution-short-medium-term-prospects [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-24 10:53:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-24 09:53:32 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.oxfordenergy.org/?post_type=publications&p=31246 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => publications [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 33501 [post_author] => 111 [post_date] => 2017-06-06 12:41:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-06-06 11:41:42 [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 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => russias-middle-east-energy-diplomacy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-12-06 12:43:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-12-06 12:43:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.oxfordenergy.org/?post_type=publications&p=33501 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => publications [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 8 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 44604 [post_author] => 111 [post_date] => 2022-03-02 16:58:55 [post_date_gmt] => 2022-03-02 16:58:55 [post_content] =>

After weeks of tensions, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine, prompting an international sanctions response targeting Russia’s economy but not directly its oil supplies or energy payments. But as sanctions on Russia intensified and as financial institutions started to refuse financing Russia-related transactions, including opening letters of credit or clearing payments and as some companies became reluctant to purchase Russian crude, Brent on March 2 (the time of writing) was trading above $110 for the first time since 2014.

Looking forward the market focus should not only be on whether the oil sector will be directly targeted by sanctions, but also the crescendo effect of self-sanctioning along the oil supply chain all the way from marketing to financing to shipping. Fears over energy sanctions and the ambiguity over the banking sanctions have already seen companies avoid purchasing Russian barrels, pushing prices to new multiyear highs and shaving-off shock mitigation policies such as the SPR releases. Also, it has become clear that traders holding Russian crude on their books are struggling to clear cargoes and this has been reflected in widening differentials and rising shipping and insurance costs. 

The next stages for Russian crude supplies are highly uncertain but some possible impacts include:

- Massive shifts in trade flows and sharp adjustments in price differentials to reflect shifts in Russian crude exports. Particularly, there could be a greater re-redirection of flows from Europe to Asia, but there are limits to such re-direction and not all Urals previously destined to Europe will flow into Asia.

- Russian oil companies could offer sweeteners to buyers to make their barrels more attractive, for instance shifting cargoes from FOB to CFR basis. Also, in response to more extensive self-sanctioning, Urals and ESPO could be offered at discounts so large that cargoes would eventually clear, potentially as masked cargoes or via ship-to-ship transfers. But there are limits to this strategy given the large volumes of Russian exports and the intensification and widening of sanctions.

- Self-sanctioning escalates over the coming weeks leading to a reduction in Russian production and supply disruptions at a larger scale. 

In the current environment of ever rising tensions, one should also not also exclude the possibility that in an escalation situation where Russia struggles to clear its barrels, weaponizing energy becomes the next chapter in Russia’s ongoing standoff with the West. As these are still early days, a scenario in which Russian oil supplies get disrupted in a sudden manner should also be considered. This will exert significant pressure on both market balances and prices in the near-term and for most of 2022. In the short term, potential responses to ease the price pressure are likely to come from the supply side. The current plan of OPEC+ to return withheld supplies back to market, Iran fully returning to the market and non-OPEC production growth particularly in North America accelerating, these combined supply responses can help fill any potential supply gap. The planned SPR releases will offer little support to a potential shortfall. But in such scenario the demand responses will also play their role and become more visible beyond the near-term. In terms of products, the market and refiners appear less flexible faced with constraints both in terms of costs and feedstock availability. Also, the impacts of the current shock will extend beyond the short-term and beyond balances and prices. The recent crisis will elevate energy security (including oil security) in policy makers’ agenda with long-term consequences for governments’ energy policies including their energy transition.

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Latest Publications by Ahmed Mehdi