Oil and Gas

Turning the tables on OPEC

A member of OPEC recently bought 700,000 barrels of US oil — about as huge a symbol of change as you could ask for.

Thanks to fracking, the United States is already the world’s No. 2 producer of crude, ahead of Saudi Arabia, and may pass No. 1 Russia later this year.

Which helps explain why the United Arab Emirates turned to a US supplier in a pinch. (The UAE needed a particular grade of “light” crude that it normally imports from Qatar — which it’s now boycotting.)

Yet that chance was only possible because of the fracking revolution, which has transformed the global market.

Though not without a fight — indeed, several. American frackers had to beat back attempts to ban the practice (which is actually a combination of long-established techniques) and get Congress to lift the US ban on crude-oil exports.

Oh, and survive OPEC’s effort to bankrupt the US industry by pushing crude prices from above $100 a barrel down to $27 in 2016. That did push some American firms under — but others rode it out, becoming even more efficient along the way.

Which left them ready to roar back when OPEC, Russia and others in late 2016 agreed to slash output to push up prices and profits. The International Energy Agency expects American production to average 10.4 million barrels a day this year, and says the surge may well make up for the cartels’ cutbacks, keeping per-barrel prices in the $60 range.

Those moderate energy prices are a boon for US industry. And it’s a two-fer, since Americans in the energy sector are also big winners — despite OPEC’s best efforts.

To anyone who recalls the US shortages during the 1970s Arab oil embargoes, the turnaround is sweet indeed.

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