OPEC, Unconventional Oil and Climate Change – On the importance of the order of extraction by Benchekroun, Hassan, Gerard van der Meijden, and Cees Withagen. Published by the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management is a long-awaited reflection on what could be the most important topic of the century. The abstract and part of the introduction are republished below, and the whole text could be found in the original referred to document.
We show that OPEC’s market power contributes to climate change by enabling producers of relatively expensive and dirty oil to start producing before OPEC reserves are depleted. We examine the importance of this extraction sequence effect by calibrating and simulating a cartel-fringe model of the global oil market. While welfare net of climate damage under the cartel-fringe equilibrium can be significantly lower than under a first-best outcome, almost the entire welfare loss is due to the sequence effect of OPEC’s market power. In our benchmark calibration, the cost of the sequence effect amounts to 15 trillion US$, which corresponds to 97 percent of the welfare loss. Moreover, we find that an increase in non-OPEC oil reserves decreases global welfare. In a counterfactual world without non-OPEC oil, global welfare would be 13 trillion US$ higher, 10 trillion US$ of which is due to lower climate damages.
What is the impact of imperfect competition in the oil market on climate change? This question is relevant given the sizable carbon footprint of oil and the prominent size of OPEC. Oil is responsible for close to a quarter of anthropogenic carbon emissions (IEA, 2016)1 and, with OPEC producing 40 percent of global oil supply and owning 70 percent of world oil reserves (EIA, 2019b), it is not realistic to assume that OPEC is a price taker in the market of oil.
An old adage says that “the monopolist is the conservationist’s best friend” (e.g., Dasgupta and Heal, 1979, p. 329). Indeed, we know from non-renewable resource economics that market power typically leads to higher initial resource prices and slower resource depletion. However, in the case of oil, the consequences of imperfect competition for the Earth’s climate are more complex because different types of oil reserves with varying carbon contents are exploited. The reason is that imperfect competition does not only affect the speed, but also the order of extraction of different reserves of oil (cf. Benchekroun et al., 2009, 2010, 2019). Conventional OPEC oil is cheaper and its extraction is less carbon intensive than unconventional oil owned by relatively small oil producers (Malins et al., 2014; Fischer and Salant, 2017; OCI, 2019). Technically recoverable reserves and production of unconventional types of oil by non-OPEC countries have grown significantly over the last decade. The supply of oil sands from Canada has more than doubled, and shale oil production in the US has increased more than tenfold since 2007 (CAPP, 2017b; EIA, 2019b). Current recoverable reserves of Canadian oil sands and of US shale oil amount to 165 and 78.2 billion barrels, respectively (CAPP, 2017a; EIA, 2019c). In this paper, we take into account that when OPEC exercises market power it does not only slow down its rate of extraction—which tends to be good for the climate—but it also opens the door for earlier production by the fringe. As a result, OPEC’s relatively cheaper and cleaner oil is extracted later, while the fringe’s costlier and dirtier oil is extracted earlier. This ‘sequence effect’ leads to higher discounted extraction costs and climate damage.
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