Here’s who stands to win from high gas prices
Not everyone is suffering from high gas prices that have spiked further with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the international sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Some players, including the U.S. oil producers, stand to gain financially. And countries such as Saudi Arabia stand to gain both monetarily and politically.
On Friday, U.S. oil prices stood at around $106 per barrel, while international benchmark brent crude cost $110 per barrel. Gas in the United States cost $4.33 per gallon on average.
Here’s a look at who is benefitting — or could benefit — from the spike.
Companies that drill for oil
As oil prices rise, producers can get more money for their product.
“Oil drillers and producers — it’s a grand slam for them right now,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, a gasoline price tracking website.
He said the industry is essentially in the opposite position of where it stood in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic crushed demand.
Claudio Galimberti, senior vice president of analysis at Rystad Energy, said all types of producers, except those in Russia, stand to gain.
“Biggest winners in this price environment are the producers – all of them, Shale, Canadian, onshore, offshore, etc. apart from the Russian ones, of course,” he said in an email.
The fact that these companies can profit has spurred left-wing criticism and some accusations of price gouging.
“American oil and gas companies should not exploit this moment to hike their prices to raise profits,” President Biden said last month.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) this week announced legislation that would impose a tax on major oil companies based on the difference in oil prices between pre-pandemic years and now. But the bill faces resistance from Republicans and moderate Democrats and faces an uncertain future.
De Haan dismissed the idea that companies should purposefully limit their profits.
“You’re asking producers to defy the logic behind supply and demand and economics. That would be akin to asking somebody on the housing market ‘oh would you please sell your house for $100,000 less to help out this person,’” De Haan said. “That’s not really the way America works.”
Shale oil producers are particularly well-suited to benefit from high gas prices given the relatively quick turnaround for extracting this type of oil.
Shale is a type of rock that can be found Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and other states that contains oil and gas. Producers often use a controversial technique called fracking to develop these fuels.
The process for extracting shale usually takes less time than does extracting conventional oil, meaning that shale producers can more easily ramp up production in response to the high prices.
“Shale is in [a] particularly good situation…mainly because of its short cycle and the fact that it can respond quickly to the price,” said Antoine Halff, an adjunct senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
“And also, that doesn’t entail making a bet on the long-term outlook for oil demand, so it’s not a long-term commitment,” added Halff, the former chief oil analyst at the International Energy Agency.
Still, he noted that shale producers so far have been hesitant to ramp up production.
“Prices have been rising prior to the invasion and there was no evidence of a steep supply response of the shale industry. Now it’s a different story because it’s not just an increase in prices, it’s also the fact that Russian barrels are off the market — at least off the western market — so there’s a supply gap,” Halff said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could benefit from the price spike if they decide to put more oil on the market.
Saudi Arabia usually has 1.5 million to 2 million barrels of oil per day of “spare capacity” – or barrels that can be quickly moved onto the market and sustained for a period of time. The UAE also has spare capacity.
“The United States also has spare capacity, but it takes time to ramp up, it takes at least six months,” Galimberti said. “For Saudi Arabia, it literally is just a matter of opening up the vault and the oil will start flowing.”
The UAE reportedly indicated this week that it wanted to move to fill the supply gap. UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba said this week that Abu Dhabi supports “production increases and will be encouraging OPEC to consider higher production levels,” according to the Financial Times.
But, Halff said that Saudi Arabia may want to get political wins out of Washington – like recognition of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as the country’s leader– before opening up its oil spigot, even if they could benefit financially from doing so.
“It’s no secret that they have been unhappy with the way they have been treated by the Biden administration and it’s probably fair to expect that they try to extract some concessions or some benefits from the Biden administration,” he said.
Kristine Berzina, a senior fellow and head of the geopolitics team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, told The Hill that the crisis “in the short term certainly” benefits the Saudis.
“But I wouldn’t say that this is a long-term change for any of these countries, because anything, that crisis shows that reliance on autocrats and dictators for an important fuel of any kind is a bad idea,” she added.
Although OPEC nations benefited from the initial price spike in fall of 2021, it may soon grow to be too much of a good thing, according to Ben Cahill, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Compared to last year, “now I think we’re entering the danger zone, where prices have shot up so dramatically, that they do start to worry about demand destruction and pressure from their consumers,” he said. “Not just the United States but China and other importers too.”
“So I don’t really think that they want $100 [a barrel] plus oil,” Cahill said. “They feel like the market’s gotten a little bit out of control.”
Iran — if it can get a nuclear deal across the finish line
If Iran could get a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other nations across the finish line, it may be able to get its barrels on the market.
Even prior to the invasion of Ukraine, the U.S., Russia and western powers such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom had been working to revive a deal with Iran in an effort to prevent the Middle Eastern nation from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The U.S. has sanctions on Iranian oil, but those could be lifted in the event of a deal.
“If they get the nuclear deal done, sanctions are likely to be lifted and you’re likely to see more Iranian oil on the market,” said Samantha Gross, who worked in international affairs at the Energy Department during the Obama administration.
In that case, the country would be able to benefit from selling its barrels for a high rate amid the supply crunch. And it could help ease high prices in the U.S. and other countries.
Elliott Abrams, who served as George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, argued that the current oil markets would increase the boon that a deal could bring to Iran.
“At $100 a barrel, you’re talking about billions and billions of dollars,” said Abrams, who was also the Trump administration’s special representative for Iran and Venezuela.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also injected new difficulties into the Iran negotiations.
During a White House press briefing this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that the U.S. was in talks with Iran, but stressed that the focus was on preventing it from getting a nuclear bomb.
“The most important reason why we are focused and have been focused on having these discussions with the Iranians…is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” she said.
“Certainly the discussion of oil is a part of that, but the most important reason is to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” she added.