Nearly two years ago the world’s oil producers slammed on the brakes and drastically cut production as the pandemic gripped the world’s economies. The sharp pullback came with an implicit promise that as factories reopened and planes returned to the air, the oil industry would revive, too, gradually scaling up production to help economies return to prepandemic health.
It isn’t exactly turning out that way. Oil producers are finding it harder than expected to ramp up output. Members of the cartel OPEC Plus, which agreed to cut output by about 10 million barrels a day in early 2020, are routinely falling well short of their rising monthly production targets.
“In a lot of places, once output has been reduced, it is not easy to bring it back,” said Richard Bronze, the head of geopolitics at Energy Aspects, a London-based research firm.
Production in the United States, the world’s largest oil producer, has also been slow to recover from its one-million-barrel-a-day plummet in 2020, as companies and investors are wary of committing money amid climate change concerns and volatile prices. The Energy Information Administration forecasts that U.S. crude output in 2022, while rising, is likely to average half a million barrels a day below 2019 levels.
This global pattern of lagging production has helped push oil prices to seven-year highs, stoking inflation, which has become a political issue in the United States and elsewhere. Brent crude, the international standard, is close to $84 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate, the American benchmark, is selling for close to $82.