Oil Prices Crash as New COVID Variant Sparks Fears
By Adedapo Adesanya
Oil prices crashed more than 12 per cent on Friday as a new COVID-19 strain sparked fears about a demand slowdown just as supply increases.
As a result, the Brent crude plunged by 11.6 per cent or $9.50 to settle at $72.72 per barrel, while the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude declined by 13.1 per cent or $10.24 to sell for $68.15 per barrel.
The discovery of a new COVID-19 variant in Southern Africa is already dampening economic growth and triggering another demand slump.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the new COVID variant detected in South Africa, stating that it could be more resistant to vaccines, thanks to its mutations. But the WHO has said further investigation was needed.
The variant, called B.1.1.529, is coming at a time when COVID cases are surging around the world ahead of the holiday season, with the WHO reporting hot spots in all regions and particularly in Europe.
The B.1.1.529 variant contains multiple mutations associated with increased antibody resistance, which may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, along with mutations that generally make it more contagious.
Market analysts noted that prices did not crash because of President Joe Biden’s announcement of the release of 50 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR), which has not even happened yet.
On Tuesday, Mr Biden of the United States announced plans to release its reserves as part of a global effort by energy-consuming nations to calm 2021′s rapid rise in fuel prices.
India, China, Japan, South Korea and the U.K. will also release some of their reserves to cool the market, which the latest development might have done.
Following this, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies (OPEC+) might still have a say in this, with the group’s December 2 meeting potentially resulting in a reduction in production targets for 2022.
The latest occurrence vindicates Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest producer which had warned that COVID-19 adds an unknown element to the market and that the alliance should not be too hasty in production ramp-ups or the market would suffer.
Amid this, oil production in the US continues to increase as drilling activity continues to pick up.
The US oil rig count rose this week to 467—a 6-rig increase and a 226 rig increase since this time last year.
The total rig count is now at 569—a figure that is 249 up from this time last year. Active rigs are still hundreds less than the 790 active rigs that were drilling in the pre-COVID world.