Saudi Arabia: Don't blame us for oil's big plunge

The story behind oil's plunge
The story behind oil's plunge

Saudi Arabia isn't a fan of the "conspiracy theories" surrounding the kingdom's oil policies.

Oil took a massive plunge from over $100 a barrel in July to under $50 in January. Saudi Arabia's refusal to cut production, especially when oil hit around $70 at Thanksgiving, raised eyebrows about the country's motives.

In the past, Saudi Arabia would respond to a supply glut like the current one by pumping less oil.

Energy analysts began to speculate that the Saudis were trying to kill off the North American shale revolution. Some shale operations are no longer profitable when oil falls below $50.

Theories claiming OPEC has a "war on shale" and that OPEC is dying are wrong, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi said in a speech on Wednesday in Berlin.

"OPEC and Saudi Arabia have yet again been maliciously -- and unfairly -- criticized for what is, in reality, a market reaction," the powerful official said.

Al-Naimi said huge price swings often trigger a "frenzy of commentary ascribing various bizarre theories and motives -- about collusion or conspiracy -- to OPEC" and Saudi Arabia.

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Saudis 'engineered' oil meltdown: The fact that al-Naimi felt the need to respond underscores just how widespread the OPEC versus North American shale talk is.

Richard Fisher, the president of the Dallas Fed, recently said the Saudis "engineered" the price drop after the Middle Eastern nation belatedly woke up to just how big America's energy boom is. Fisher also noted that the Saudis benefit from cheap oil because of the pain it inflicts on Iran, their chief rival in the region.

Even the Saudi oil minister acknowledged the country's goal of maintaining market share. It didn't want a repeat of the 1980s when it lost ground by significantly cutting production.

"We will not make the same mistake again. Today, it is not the role of Saudi Arabia, or other certain OPEC nations, to subsidize higher cost producers by ceding market share," al-Naimi said.

Goldman Sachs CEO on the benefits of low oil
Goldman Sachs CEO on the benefits of low oil

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Premature talk of OPEC's death? Al-Naimi also downplayed talk of OPEC's demise.

OPEC, which was founded in 1960, is led by some of the most influential oil producing countries in the world, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

Edward Morse, a Citigroup oil expert who correctly predicted the 2008 crash, recently said the "end of OPEC" might be closer to reality now. He pointed to the disruptive force of the U.S. shale revolution, which has caused OPEC to lose its biggest customer (America) and diminished OPEC's ability to manipulate prices to its own advantage.

The U.S. shale revolution has "created a sort of existential threat to Saudi Arabia and OPEC," Morse wrote.

Fractured alliance? It's clear that cheap oil is spooking at least some OPEC members as well as causing fractures within the cartel.

Nigeria's oil minister, who also serves as OPEC's president, recently warned that OPEC could hold an emergency meeting if prices don't rebound. Nigeria needs oil prices of nearly $120 a barrel to balance its budget, according to Deutsche Bank.

But OPEC sources told CNN Saudi Arabia won't agree to hold an emergency meeting despite the pain being felt by some members of the cartel.

Related: Saudi Prince: Oil will never return to $100

Too much oil: Eight months after the oil price began falling, the supply glut still exists. Oil dropped back below $50 a barrel on Wednesday after new data revealed a huge increase in U.S. crude supplies over the past week to all-time record highs.

Al-Naimi, whose speech was made public before the data was issued, doesn't sound worried about prices dropping further.

"History will prove that this was the correct path forward," he said. "Demand is gradually rising, global economic growth seems more robust and the oil price is stabilizing."

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