FREEZING OIL PRICES THE WRONG RESPONSE TO MILITARY ACTION

Bob Tippee

A large step toward new military action against Iraq provides the occasion for a reminder to major oil companies: Don't freeze retail prices of oil products.

To show proper concern for consumers, set flexible caps instead.

It would be best, of course, for consumers and everyone else, to simply leave prices alone. Politically, however, that's not always an option.

But freezing prices would be a mistake.

Nobody knows what oil prices will do in the event of a new invasion of Iraq. Congress on Oct. 10 passed a resolution approving a US military move against Iraq, even without support of the United Nations, provided President George W. Bush exhausts diplomatic alternatives before taking unilateral action.

The normal assumption is that war will make oil prices leap. To some extent, however, they already have. War anxiety has kept prices higher than what they normally would be under recent conditions of physical supply and demand.

The market is accounting for the certain loss of Iraqi exports that will occur if war starts. It's also reacting to uncertainty about how hostilities will affect supply from Iraq's neighbors.

Interruption of flow from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran would raise prices. Assurance that those producers were safe probably would let prices recede.

Experience of Desert Storm—the invasion to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait in January 1991—is instructive.

Before the assault, the expectation was widespread that wartime crude prices would reach $50/bbl or more. Major oil companies, worried about charges of profiteering, announced price freezes. On the day of the invasion, some crude prices reached $40/bbl—then quickly plunged to half that level.

That the companies' magnanimous freezes had become price floors—quickly dismantled—didn't escape the notice of critics.

"Some oil companies decided to freeze prices," said Rep. Silvio Conte (R-Mass.). "But they just don't know how to do something without hurting the American consumer. Big Oil announced their price freeze when the price of oil was dropping like a stone."

In some quarters, the oil industry can't win. It can, however, avoid public-relations traps.

(Online Oct. 11, 2002; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

Related Articles

Origin lets contract for Otway basin fields

07/02/2015 Origin Energy Ltd., Sydney, has let a $1.3 million (Aus.) contract to Wood Group Kenny for provision of a detailed engineering design for the onsho...

Puma Energy completes purchase of Murco’s UK refinery, terminals

07/02/2015 Singapore-based Puma Energy Group Pte. has completed its purchase of UK midstream and downstream assets from Murco Petroleum Ltd., a subsidiary of ...

BP to settle federal, state Deepwater Horizon claims for $18.7 billion

07/02/2015 BP Exploration & Production Inc. has agreed in principle to settle all federal and state claims arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon inciden...

API to issue recommended practice to address pipeline safety

07/01/2015 The American Petroleum Institute expects to issue a new recommended practice in another few weeks that addresses pipeline safety issues, but the tr...

Shell Midstream Partners takes interest in Poseidon oil pipeline

07/01/2015 Shell Midstream Partners LP has completed its acquisition of 36% equity interest in Poseidon Oil Pipeline Co. LLC from Equilon Enterprises LLC, a s...

Shell makes FID on Appomattox deepwater development in Gulf of Mexico

07/01/2015 Royal Dutch Shell PLC has taken a final investment decision (FID) on the Appomattox deepwater development, authorizing construction and installatio...

Woodside-led Browse FLNG venture enters FEED phase

07/01/2015 The Woodside Petroleum Ltd.-led Browse LNG joint venture has entered the front-end engineering and design phase for a floating LNG (FLNG) developme...

FWS issues Shell letter of authorization on Chukchi Sea lease

07/01/2015 The US Fish & Wildlife Service issued Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. a letter of authorization (LOA) related to the potential disturbance of polar b...

Case for Keystone XL has grown stronger, TransCanada tells Kerry

06/30/2015 Canada is taking strong steps toward combating climate change, and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline crude oil pipeline remains in the US national ...
White Papers

Three Tips to Improve Safety in the Oil Field

Working oil fields will always be tough work with inherent risks. There’s no getting around that. Ther...
Sponsored by

Pipeline Integrity: Best Practices to Prevent, Detect, and Mitigate Commodity Releases

Commodity releases can have catastrophic consequences, so ensuring pipeline integrity is crucial for p...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Digital Asset Approach - Defining a new era of collaboration in capital projects and asset operations

There is constant, intensive change in the capital projects and asset life cycle management. New chall...
Sponsored by

Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry with EPPM

With budgets in the billions, timelines spanning years, and life cycles extending over decades, oil an...
Sponsored by

Asset Decommissioning in Oil & Gas: Transforming Business

Asset intensive organizations like Oil and Gas have their own industry specific challenges when it com...
Sponsored by

Squeezing the Green: How to Cut Petroleum Downstream Costs and Optimize Processing Efficiencies with Enterprise Project Portfolio Management Solutions

As the downstream petroleum industry grapples with change in every sector and at every level, includin...
Sponsored by

7 Steps to Improve Oil & Gas Asset Decommissioning

Global competition and volatile markets are creating a challenging business climate for project based ...
Sponsored by

The impact of aging infrastructure in process manufacturing industries

Process manufacturing companies in the oil and gas, utilities, chemicals and natural resource industri...
Sponsored by
Available Webcasts


OGJ's Midyear Forecast 2015

When Fri, Jul 10, 2015

This webcast is to be presented by OGJ Editor Bob Tippee and Senior Economic Editor Conglin Xu.  They will summarize the Midyear Forecast projections in key categories, note important changes from January’s forecasts, and examine reasons for the adjustments.

register:WEBCAST


Predictive Analytics in your digital oilfield - Optimize Production Yield and Reduce Operational Costs

When Tue, Jul 7, 2015

Putting predictive analytics to work in your oilfield can help you anticipate failures, plan and schedule work in advance, eliminate emergency work and catastrophic failures, and at the same time you can optimize working capital and improve resource utilization.  When you apply analytic capabilities to critical production assets it is possible to reduce non-productive time and increase your yield.

Learn how IBM's analytics capabilities can be applied to critical production assets with the goal of reducing non-productive time, increasing yield and reducing operations costs.

register:WEBCAST



On Demand

Cognitive Solutions for Upstream Oil and Gas

Fri, Jun 12, 2015

The oil & gas sector is under pressure on all sides. Reserves are limited and it’s becoming increasingly expensive to find and extract new resources. Margins are already being squeezed in an industry where one wrong decision can cost millions. Analyzing data used in energy exploration can save millions of dollars as we develop ways to predict where and how to extract the world’s massive energy reserves.

This session with IBM Subject Matter Experts will discuss how IBM Cognitive Solutions contribute to the oil and gas industry using predictive analytics and cognitive computing, as well as real time streaming for exploration and drilling.

register:WEBCAST


The Alternative Fuel Movement: Four Need-to-Know Excise Tax Complexities

Thu, Jun 4, 2015

Discussion on how to approach, and ultimately embrace, the alternative fuel market by pulling back the veil on excise tax complexities. Taxes may be an aggravating part of daily operations, but their accuracy is crucial in your path towards business success.

register:WEBCAST


Emerson Micro Motion Videos

Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected