The US Tight Oil Revolution in a Global Perspective

Historically, the industry has had a very poor record in predicting oil prices and key fundamental shifts in the oil market, and this time is no different. Not only did most industry and oil market analysts fail to predict the scale of the tight oil revolution, but now that the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, expectations regarding the impact of the tight oil revolution on global supply dynamics and international prices appear overhyped. However, contrary to the general view in the market that the abundance of tight oil would cause both a sharp drop in oil prices and create a supply glut in crude or refined products, neither has really materialized. This raises a key question: how can the oil market be undergoing a revolution without its effects being felt on global oil prices? One may argue that the impact of shale oil on prices and oil market dynamics is yet to be felt, as some of the underlying forces still need time to unfold. However, we find such an argument unconvincing. If, during the last three years, the large positive US supply shock failed to cause sharp price falls, why would a rise in US supply now bring about falling prices over the next few years? Instead, in this note, we argue that there are some fundamental weaknesses and flaws in the analysis underlying the ‘oil price-collapsing’ scenario and ‘hyped expectations’; current projections of the impact of shale on global oil market dynamics are hence likely to produce ‘off the mark’ predictions once again. We also argue that the current debate neglects some key areas in which the tight oil revolution is likely to have its biggest impact – namely on crude oil and product trade flows, on price differentials, and on the global markets for natural gas liquids.

By: Bassam Fattouh