Can Egypt have a serious impact on the international oil market?
| September 17, 2013
Without doubt Egypt is one of the strategic hotspots when it comes to transporting fuel between the Middle East and the Mediterranean. But are fears about possible supply disruptions justified? And if they are, would these disruptions have a major long-term impact on the international oil market? My answer to both questions is no.
Certainly, among supply-side factors like the strikes in Libya and unrest in Bahrain, Egypt has been one of the main reasons for the rise in oil prices since the beginning of July. But considering what could really happen, Egypt seems like a little drop in the ocean of global supply and demand for oil.
In 2012, about 7 percent of seaborne-traded oil and 13 percent of LNG traded worldwide, were transported through the 205-meter wide and 24-meter deep Suez Canal. On a daily basis, this makes up about 2.97 million barrels of oil, together with a yearly amount of 1.5 trillion cubic feed of LNG. In addition, the SUMED pipeline spanning between Ain Sukhna on the Gulf of Suez to offshore Sidi Kerir by Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea transported about 1.54 million barrels of oil per day in 2012.
What could happen?
Let's try to play out different scenarios about how this vital transport infrastructure could be disrupted in the current situation.
One scenario, for instance, is that the Islamists who recently executed 25 policemen in Sinai could try to block the Suez Canal. Symbolically, this would have a huge impact on Egypt which sourced about $5.2 billion in revenues from the canal in 2012. However, strategically this is impossible considering that the canal is heavily controlled by the U.S.-funded Egyptian military, and blocking it would take an immense logistical effort.
Another one would be that Islamists could try to attack the SUMED pipeline, cutting about 1.54 billion barrels in oil supply a day, roughly equal to Libya's fall in oil exports in 2011 which led to the highest oil price increase since the financial crisis. Again, this very unlikely considering that any sabotage of the pipeline would have to be undertaken without hiding space on an open plane in the middle of the desert (SUMED does not run through the delta).
Finally, there also exists the possibility that regimes like Turkey and Qatar stock up their support for the Muslim Brotherhood and that this could lead to a slight shift in the current balance of power. So what? Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and other regional powers will still support the military regime to avoid any disruptions of oil transports.
What are the long-term impacts if something would happen?
Now, hypothetically, even if one of the above scenarios would work out, they might actually not have such a huge impact on the international oil market. In all cases, a shutdown of the Suez Canal and SUMED would add 2,700 miles to ship oil from Saudi Arabia to the U.S., adding shipping time of 15 days for a transit to Europe and of 8-10 days to the U.S.
But such a shutdown would not last for long, and the ripple effect might be marginal. Not only would the U.S. and Saudi Arabia end the disruptions as quickly as possible, but the world market would also compensate for supply loss relatively well. Never have strategic petroleum reserves and possibilities of other sources of supply been as big.
"The market is now better prepared for disruptions than before, as we see more supply elsewhere," says Ole Hansen, the head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank A/S. For instance, the U.S. alone has strategic reserves of more than 4 million barrels per day for more than 90 days, and Saudi Arabia has an excess production capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day.
For the first time since May 2012, the WTI spot price crossed its $100 per barrel line with a price of $102 per barrel on the day of the coup in Egypt, currently standing at $107 per barrel. Brent reached its highest price since March, with a spot price of $111 per barrel as of Aug. 19.
Experts associate the price rises not only with the current turmoil in Egypt, but also the strikes in Libya, which have led to a decrease in Libyan oil exports of more than 50 percent (according to some estimates), and unrest in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Market analysts like Tom Essaye also make speculations by traders about the reaction of the Fed to the U.S. stimulus program responsible.
- Express your gratitude with unique trucker gifts!
- The ultimate office holiday gift guide
- Holiday gift ideas for educators
- The ultimate gift guide for health care workers