Why are oil prices falling? 5 reasons you might not expect

Oil prices have collapsed over the last several months, and some analysts say they could go even lower. What's behind the plunge in oil prices?

A variety of factors have coalesced into a perfect storm driving oil prices lower and lower: US prices have fallen 25 percent to around $80 a barrel in the past five months – a large drop, given that prices had been floating around $115 dollars a barrel from 2011 onward.

In late October, Goldman Sachs revised its 2015 forecast to predict that oil prices would continue a downward slide. Goldman predicts soft demand and a glut of supply will drive West Texas Intermediate – the North American benchmark – to $70 a barrel in the second quarter of 2015. Global benchmark Brent could dip to $80 that same quarter, according to the report, when oversupply is at its peak.

But the global oil market is unpredictable, and dependent on a variety of factors.

“[O]il is an imperfect market in every way,” says Deborah Gordon, director of the energy and climate program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank. The market is racked with government intervention, cartel manipulation, and high barriers to entry, Ms. Gordon says. “It would be hard to imagine a more imperfect market.”

For now, that imperfect market is a boon to US motorists, who are enjoying the lowest gas prices in years. And those savings could translate into increased consumer spending in other sectors. Low gas prices have a downside, though, encouraging increased gasoline consumption and the purchase of larger, more inefficient vehicles.

Falling crude prices also threaten oil producers in Texas and North Dakota, where the cost of extracting hard-to-reach oil from shale is high. Oil producers in those regions are already cutting rig counts – worried that if crude prices dip too low, wells won’t turn a profit.

Abroad, Venezuela, Russia and other petro states are wringing their hands as well, watching nervously as prices plunge. Those oil-dependent governments rely on high-priced crude to round out their budgets, and falling oil revenues mean they’ll have to curb their government spending.

Relief for those countries may not come anytime soon. Here are the five main reasons oil prices have been falling:

Julio Cortez/AP
Gas prices below $3 dollars are displayed at a gas station, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, in Jersey City, N.J.

1. US oil production is booming

Gregory Bull/AP/File
A worker hangs from an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D.

Exploding US oil production has transformed one of the world’s leading oil consumers into one of its leading producers as well – in fact, North Dakota alone produces a million barrels of oil per day. US production now rivals oil giants Saudi Arabia and Russia, largely thanks to innovative drilling that has unlocked oil and natural gas deposits trapped in shale rock.

US production has cushioned oil markets from geopolitical strife in the Middle East and Ukraine, and are pushing down gas prices. Analysts expect gasoline could slide below $3.00 a gallon before the end of the year.

1 of 5

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.