Murban: A benchmark for the Middle East?

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.

By: Ahmed Mehdi , Eesha Muneeb , Bassam Fattouh