Oil Drama and the Twitter-verse

This is for all of the energy junkies out there – and you know who you are – who follow every dip and swing in the oil market, can name a dozen shale oil producers, and you have a personal prediction about when, if ever, the alternative energies will really disrupt.

A curious incident occurred this week as reported by the Wall Street Journal: Twitter deleted a series of tweets from oil traders, because the American Petroleum Institute (API) claimed the tweets contained information from API reports that are only available to paying customers. API considers this data, concerning oil inventory levels in the United States, protected by copyright laws. The problem is that this data—which is released weekly on Tuesdays—can and does move the market in the short-term, according to the Wall Street Journal analysis which says it is used by investors as a guide ahead of the U.S. government statistics which are released on Wednesdays.

API is best described as an industry activist group. It advocates on behalf of the petroleum industry, lobbies for the petroleum industry in Washington, produces nationally televised political ads for the industry, creates research and reports on behalf of the industry, and is funded by the industry. This means we have an extremely interested party releasing information weekly that moves the market. But there is more. The API charges for access to this market-moving information and aggressively fights its dissemination to the general public unless that public is willing to pay. In other words, market-moving information, produced by an interested party, is selectively released and kept hidden from all but the customers. Where’s the open market there?

It is no wonder that major energy producers, especially those outside the U.S., ignore and largely disdain the short-term speculative energy markets. Back in 2008, Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister criticized speculators and the distortions they create in the market, saying, “speculators bore significant responsibility for the sharp increase in oil prices in the last few years,” in a cable to the U.S. State Department. In a speech at the 2011 HIS CERAWeek conference, Naimi attacked speculators publicly for causing market volatility.

The largest energy producers—be they national entities in the Middle East, Russia, or South America, or multinationals like Exxon or BP—actually own resources. They are in it for the long-term, no matter what. For them, short-term speculation, sometimes based on nothing more than a weekly API report, is a nuisance. So the next time you try to understand the strategy of Rex Tillerson or Ali al-Naimi, remember that they do not and cannot afford to take to heart the short-term speculation and fickly daily swings in energy prices like energy junkies do.