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No Current Plan for the UAE to Leave OPEC Oil Alliance, Sources Say

Ramzi Boudina | Reuters
  • The UAE does not intend to depart from the OPEC alliance at this time, two officials with knowledge of the matter told CNBC.
  • The Wall Street Journal had reported that Abu Dhabi is internally mulling such a departure.

The United Arab Emirates does not intend to leave the influential OPEC oil alliance at this time, two senior officials with knowledge of the matter told CNBC, after a recent report signaled internal talks over such a departure.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not allowed to publicly discuss the topic. The UAE oil ministry and Adnoc, the state-owned oil company of the United Arab Emirates, did not immediately respond to CNBC requests for comment.

On March 3, the Wall Street Journal reported that rising political disagreements between OPEC+ chair Saudi Arabia and the UAE have once more sparked questions over the latter's future in the producers' coalition.

Such a departure would remove the cooperation of the third-largest producer of the OPEC subgroup and hint at further disunity within the alliance after the recent exits of Ecuador and Qatar — at a time when oil prices remain trapped between limited global spare capacity and potential demand increases from a reopening China.

The Brent contract with May expiry was trading at $84.76 per barrel at 1 p.m. London time, down by $1.07 per barrel from the previous close price. The front-month Nymex WTI contract was at $78.72 per barrel, lower by 96 cents per barrel from the previous settlement price.

Abu Dhabi has historically been a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia in OPEC dynamics and, alongside Kuwait and Riyadh, shaped the informal Gulf trifecta that has occasionally stepped in to assist group policies with additional, voluntary production cuts. Beyond oil strategy, the close ties between Saudi Arabia and the UAE have started to show some strain, as the two countries have diverging aims in the conflict in Yemen and vie for foreign investment.

Oil divisions first emerged in the summer of 2021, a year into a spartan Saudi-led production strategy to drastically lower OPEC+ output in response to the Covid-19 demand shock for transport fuels. OPEC+ decisions require unanimous endorsement, and the UAE at the time exercised its veto to hold up a group meeting until it earned a concession that it — alongside Russia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq — should receive a higher production "baseline." Baselines are the reference level that determine the starting point for a country's pro-rata contribution to OPEC+ collective cuts or increases. The higher the baseline, the higher the level to which an OPEC+ member country may produce without violating its commitments.

Individual members' bids to increase their OPEC+ quotas have largely died down in recent months, as underinvestment, sanctions, sabotage and infrastructural collapse saw the quotas of several countries surpass their production capacity. The UAE is one of a handful of OPEC+ members that has remaining spare capacity and is working to bolster it. Paris-based watchdog, the International Energy Agency, found that the Emirates' most recently produced 3.23 million barrels per day in February, well below its country's IEA-assessed sustainable capacity of 4.12 million barrels per day. Abu Dhabi is working to hike its spare capacity to 5 million barrels per day by 2027.

The tense discussions of 2021 sparked questions of potential pressure that the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company could be exercising on the oil ministry to reduce oil cuts that rein in national revenues. Three sources indicated to CNBC that there is currently no friction between Adnoc and the ministry over the UAE's ongoing participation in OPEC+. The two organizations are fully aligned, one of the sources said.  

Striking a balance between the profit priorities of national oil companies and the OPEC+ loyalties of oil ministries often epitomizes the challenge that OPEC+ member countries face to choose between short and long-term gains. The coordination between the two entities is seamless in some countries: Saudi Arabia's state-controlled Aramco typically awaits the conclusion of OPEC+ meetings before releasing its official formula prices to customers at the start of the month.

Adnoc is in a cycle of growing and diversifying the reach of its business. The company is expected to float 5% of its Adnoc Gas business in a highly anticipated public offering and begin trading on March 13. Adnoc is also looking to open a full-fledged Geneva office for its trading subsidiary on an uncertain timeline.

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