Venezuela: Oil King?

Via Foreign Policy’s Oil & Glory blog, an interesting comment on Venezuela’s position in OPEC:

 Is Saudi Arabia’s mere possession of much oil the central reason it is the most pivotal energy player on the planet?

Observed through the prism of Venezuela, the answer is no. BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy, the bible of the energy industry, was released this week, and makes official something that OPEC asserted months ago — Venezuela has surpassed Saudi, and become the world’s largest reserve of oil. With 296 billion barrels, Venezuela has 18 percent of the oil on the planet; Saudi Arabia, with 265 billion barrels, has 16 percent (Canada’s 175 billion barrels make it third, with 11 percent of the global total). Yet, oil is one sphere where possession is not nine-tenths of the law. Saudi Arabia remains king because of what it does and, more important, can do with its oil.

For starters, the Saudis are the world’s biggest oil exporters (10.1 million barrels a day in April); Venezuela exported 2.1 million barrels of oil a day, the seventh in rank, according to OPEC. But the more salient factor is Saudi’s residual capability — it is the sole country able to add meaningful daily volumes to global production in a pinch; Venezuela’s spare production capacity is effectively zero. And that factor — spare capacity — is pivotal in the stability, or lack of, in global energy. When the world knows that there is oil to be had regardless of what calamity ensues, it can go and worry about other matters. Conversely, when spare oil production capacity becomes razor-thin, the world fixates on petroleum; prices go through the roof. Conclusion: Little sleep was lost this week in the kingly palaces of Saudi Arabia.

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