Additional Iranian Oil Sanctions May Be Counterproductive

A June 6, 2013, article from Reuters is titled, “Lawmakers in new drive to slash Iran’s oil sales to a trickle.” According to it,

U.S. lawmakers are embarking this summer on a campaign to deal a deeper blow to Iran’s diminishing oil exports, and while they are still working out the details, analysts say the ultimate goal could be a near total cut-off.

My concern is that the new sanctions, if they work, will put the United States and Europe in a worse financial position than they were before the sanctions, mostly because of a spike in oil prices.

How much reduction in oil exports are we talking about? According to both the EIA and BP,  Iranian oil exports were in the 2.5 million barrels a day range, for most years in the 1992 to 2011 period. In 2012, Iran’s oil exports dropped to 1.7 or 1.8 million barrels a day. Recent data from OPEC suggests Iranian oil exports (crude + products) have recently dropped to about 1.5 million barrels a day in May 2013.

Figure 1. Iranian oil exports, based on BP and on EIA data.

Figure 1. Iranian oil exports, based on BP and on EIA data.

If the ultimate goal is “close to total cut-off,” an obvious question we should be asking ourselves is whether it makes sense to handicap world oil production by close to 2.5 million barrels relative to 2011, or close to 1.5 million barrels relative to May 2013. Oil prices have spiked in the past when there has been an interruption in world oil supply. Why wouldn’t they this time? Furthermore, who are really handicapping: Ourselves or Iran? Continue reading