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Qatar is leaving OPEC, and here's why

Tue 11 Dec 2018 by Jamey Bergman

Qatar is leaving OPEC, and here's why
Wood Mackenzie's vice president of macro oils Ann-Louise Hittle said Qatar's decision was resource-based, rather than politically-motivated

Qatar has announced its withdrawal from OPEC effective 1 January 2019, and the move seems to have more to do with the gas sector than it does the oil market or regional diplomatic squabbles.

The country's official line when announcing its exit from the oil cartel after 57 years of membership was that it wanted to spend more time on gas.

“Achieving our ambitious growth strategy will undoubtedly require focused efforts, commitment, and dedication to maintain and strengthen Qatar’s position as the leading natural gas producer,” Qatar's energy minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi said.

While some have speculated the move was a reaction to the 18-month long regional blockade the country has faced, others disagree.

Offering her take in a recent Wood Mackenzie comment, the consultancy's vice president of macro oils Ann-Louise Hittle said Qatar's decision was resource-based, rather than politically-motivated.

"Qatar's withdrawal is more likely a result of its effort to focus on its place as one of the world’s leading gas producers," Ms Hittle said, downplaying the land, sea and air embargo imposed on Qatar by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt following a diplomatic row in May 2017. 

In terms of its oil resources, Qatar ranks among the bottom five of OPEC's producers, producing less than 2% of OPEC's total output. Its 600,000 or so barrels per day (b/d) is tiny in comparison to Saudi Arabia's 10M. And it has little spare reserves, according to Ms Hittle.

On the gas side, Qatar has plans to ramp up production by more than 40% by 2023. To enable this, the country lifted a 12-year ban on development of its North Field in April 2017 and is planning to bring a four mega-train LNG facility onstream by 2023.

"Qatar’s OPEC exit underlines the country’s aim to maintain its place in the global LNG market," Wood Mackenzie research analyst for MENA upstream, Lynn Morris-Akinyemi said. 

Australia has just surpassed Qatar as the world's leading exporter, as CS LNG consulting's founder and managing director Keith Bainbridge forecast at the LNG World Shipping ship-shore interface conference in London in November.

As Qatar builds its capacity for gas production, the outcome – and ultimate aim – could be control of the LNG market. 

Mr Bainbridge cited a lack of investment that has frustrated growth in the LNG market, but Qatar could change that. 

With Qatari interests taking a majority share of the Golden Pass LNG export project in the US and Qatar's ambitious growth plans, Mr Bainbridge said the country had the potential to have a significant impact on the price of gas.

About 27% of global LNG volumes are currently supplied by Qatar, according to Mr Bainbridge and "if Qatar signs up for another 35 or 40M tonnes, guess what? They're back in control of the game," he said. 

"I think the low gas prices are here to stay," he said, "but let's wait and see."

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