How Much Longer Can the West Look to OPEC for Oil?

 |  Includes: DBO, OIL, USO, XLE
by: Old Trader

Even though OPEC's share of global oil production has been declining as a result of the West's desire to slip, or at least loosen, the supply noose held by OPEC, the cartel, as a whole, is still the largest single source of global oil and Saudi Arabia is the largest, also known as the "swing producer".

According to the "Oil & Gas Journal", Saudi Arabia has the largest proven reserves and is the second largest producer based on daily production.

Proven reserves of crude oil:

Daily crude production:

A couple of points to consider regarding Saudi Arabia (in particular) and OPEC (in general).

First, it has long been rumored that Saudi reserves have been overstated, since there's been nothing resembling an independent verification in roughly 35 years (when Saudi Aramco was run by Western major oil firms). Since that time, it has been a case of the Saudi government saying the reserves were such and such, and the rest of the world supposed to take that on faith.

Now this charge (that the Saudis have been "stretching" the truth, regarding their reserves) is not a new one; among the flood of embassy cables leaked by WikiLeaks was this little gem, dated December 10, 2007.

In a nutshell, it deals with the issues that the Saudis are having. First, according to Sadad al-Husseini, retired VP of Exploration & Production at Saudi Aramco, reserves "may" have been somewhat overstated. Second, various technical problems made for difficulties in achieving promised production increases.

Another issue that may well prove troublesome is the ongoing regional unrest. Although, so far, production hasn't been impacted, at least certainly not to any noticeable degree, no one can say for certain how long that will be the case.

Some of the smaller, wealthier producers have resorted to "paying" citizens in an effort to allay the unrest caused by the poverty and hardship suffered by large portions of the populace. Unfortunately, that's something of a stop-gap measure to buy the controlling governments/regimes some time to implement meaningful changes. Ultimately (assuming that they're allowed to stay in power), the governments will have to expand their economies to provide for the people. Doing so means diverting some of the oil that's being sold on the world market for internal use.

In fact, the cable mentioned above goes on to discuss Saudi Arabia's efforts in developing nuclear power to provide for its growing energy needs, leaving more of the decreasing oil reserves available for export. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is not the only Middle Eastern country in that precarious position.

I think it will pay for investors to look increasingly harder at the quickly vanishing "safe" sources of production.

Disclosure: I am long STO, PVX.