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Spare Capacity: The Biggest Mystery In Oil Markets

Spare Capacity: The Biggest Mystery In Oil Markets

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With around 2.5 million barrels per day (mb/d) of Iranian supply targeted by the Trump administration, how will the oil market cope with the losses? Is there enough supply capacity to make up for the shortfall?

There is a great deal of debate about the true extent of the world’s spare capacity. Or, more precisely, there are a range of guesses over how much surplus is located in Saudi Arabia, the one country that really has the ability to ramp up large volumes of supply on short notice.

Saudi Arabia claims it could produce 12.5 mb/d if it really needed to. However, that claim has not been put to the test. Saudi Arabia’s all-time highest level of production was just over 10.7 mb/d in 2016, just before it helped engineer the OPEC+ production cuts.

Adding around 2 mb/d of extra supply – as President Trump demands – is a tall order. “More recent history shows Saudi has never produced more than 10.6mn b/d on average over a single month. And even in the recent period, we have observed a steep decline in domestic Saudi oil inventories,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch wrote in a note, arguing that there is plenty of reason to question the notion that Saudi Arabia has around 2 mb/d of idled capacity. “Thus, it appears the oil market has little confidence that Iran volumes can be easily replaced.”

The International Energy Agency estimates that there is around 1.1 mb/d of total global spare capacity that can truly be ramped up in a short period of time. A looser definition of spare capacity that encompasses the ability to add supply over several months puts the figure at about 3.4 mb/d, 60 percent of which is located in Saudi Arabia. Smaller additions come from the UAE, Kuwait, Iraq and Russia.

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