OPEC+ Production Cut Could Prompt U.S. to Reconsider NOPEC Bill

U.S. legislation of No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (NOPEC), which could open antitrust lawsuits to members of oil producing group OPEC+ has re-emerged as a possible tool to tackle high fuel prices, after OPEC+ decided to cut production despite lobbying by the Biden administration. The NOPEC bill, which passed a Senate committee in May, is proposed to protect U.S. consumers and businesses from engineered oil price hikes. But some analysts warn that putting the legislation into force could also have some dangerous unintended consequences.

OPEC+, which includes OPEC members, as well as allies such as Russia, agreed on Wednesday to steeply slash supply in an already tight market.

The White House said after the decision that it would consult with the Congress on additional measures to reduce OPEC’s control over energy prices, a signal of support for NOPEC, which the White House had previously voiced concerns about.

The bipartisan NOPEC bill would change the U.S. antitrust law to revoke the sovereign immunity that has protected OPEC+ members and their national oil companies from lawsuits.

If it becomes law, the U.S. attorney general will be authorized to sue the oil group or its individual members, including Saudia Arabia, in federal court.

It is unclear exactly how a federal court could enforce judicial antitrust decisions against a foreign nation. The United States could also face criticism for its attempts to manipulate markets by, for example, its planned release of 165 million barrels of oil from the emergency oil reserve between May and November.

There has been attempts to pass the NOPEC bill for more than two decades, but Saudi Arabia lobbied hard every time a version of the legislation has come up.

The bill will still need to pass the full Senate and House and be signed by the president to become law. The legislation is seen likely to receive the 60 votes it needs from the 100-member Senate if introduced.

Previous versions of the NOPEC bill have failed amid resistance by oil industry groups, including top U.S. oil lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute (API).

But the Congress has become more and more anxious about gasoline prices that caused inflation to rise to its highest level in decades.

Saudi Arabia has rebuffed repeated lobbying during visits by Biden officials not to cut production. Instead, OPEC+ on Wednesday agreed to cut output by the most since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lobby group API has long opposed NOPEC, saying it could hurt U.S. oil and gas producers. One industry concern is that NOPEC legislation could ultimately lead to overproduction by OPEC, bringing prices so low that U.S. energy companies have difficulty boosting output. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries have some of the world’s cheapest and easiest reserves to produce.

Such a move could hit U.S. fossil fuel companies hard, some of which are already reluctant to boost production despite the OPEC cut.

Some analysts have said that NOPEC could lead to unintended blowback, including the possibility that other countries could take similar action on the United States for withholding agricultural output to support domestic farming, for example.

OPEC nations could also strike back in other ways.

As an example, in 2019, when the legislation came into the agenda once more, Saudi Arabia threatened to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passed a version of the NOPEC bill. Doing so would undermine the dollar’s status as the world’s main reserve currency, reduce Washington’s clout in global trade, and weaken its ability to enforce sanctions on nation states.

Saudi Arabia could also decide to buy weapons from other countries than the United States, hampering a lucrative business for U.S. defense companies.

The kingdom and other oil producers could limit U.S. investments in their countries or simply raise their prices for oil sold into the United States as well, undermining the basic aim of the bill.

The United States and its allies are already facing big challenges securing imports of reliable energy supplies, especially as sanctions ramp up on Russia, one of the world’s largest oil and gas suppliers, for its invasion of Ukraine.

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