The nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers likely will put a lid on oil prices for the foreseeable future, industry analysts and regional economists said Tuesday.
Therefore, they said, an expected rebound in prices, which some had figured would happen near the end of this year, will probably take longer to happen.
How much longer is anybody’s guess.
However, after watching tumbling oil prices balloon into one of the worst state budget deficits in recent memory, the experts speculated Tuesday that the nuclear deal won’t send crude oil prices spiraling down even further next year, assuming economic sanctions are eventually eased to allow Iran to sell more oil.
“It won’t cause the price to fall through the floor,” LSU economist Jim Richardson said of the deal announced Tuesday in Vienna. “But it will certainly dampen any big increase over a period of time.”
On news of the deal, Brent crude oil prices — the standard used to price oil that ends up in many U.S. refineries — closed Tuesday at $58.51 per barrel, up 66 cents on the day but down to about half the price of a year ago.
Many industry analysts expect that Iran — with the third-largest oil and gas reserves in the world — could add 600,000 barrels of daily crude oil production to the global supply by the end of 2017. But the gradual ramp-up will take time, they say, which will keep oil prices from taking a quick nosedive.
“It’s going to be a much slower recovery in energy prices,” said David Dismukes, head of the LSU Center for Energy Studies. “So if you’re on the producing side of this business, it’s probably not the best news in the world.”
Federal energy figures released last week showed oil last month averaged $61 per barrel, down $3 per barrel from May. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that oil prices will continue a slow rise, averaging $60.22 a barrel in 2015 and $67.04 in 2016.
Nowhere in sight is a return to the heady days of $110-a-barrel oil, where prices hovered for four years before tumbling sharply in late 2014.
Prices took another hit July 6, falling $4 per barrel in anticipation of the new Iranian supply and amid concerns about Greece’s fiscal crisis and weak economic growth in China.
Louisiana’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 is based on the assumption that oil prices will stay at about $62 per barrel through next year.
In the last legislative session, state lawmakers were left scrambling to plug one of the worst budget deficits in memory, a $1 billion-plus hole that grew by nearly $400 million as oil prices fell by 60 percent in a few months, sapping much-needed state revenues.
Every dollar decline in the price per barrel translates to about a $12 million hit to state government from lower severance taxes and royalty payments.
“We have no reason to believe that there will be a rapid increase in prices,” said Greg Albrecht, the Louisiana Legislature’s chief economist. “And whatever incline we see will be quickly modified.”
Industry analysts and economists said it will probably take six months before any drop of new supply from Iran hits the global market, and it will likely be a year before the country’s increase in daily production can reach a half-million barrels.
Iran has about 30 million barrels of oil in storage, noted Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute. While that may sound like a lot, he said, spread over a year, it doesn’t add up to much of a daily impact.
“Before the sanctions, Iran was producing about 4 million barrels a day, and that would be their target to get back to,” Smith said. “They’re down around 2.8 million barrels now. They’ve also got some domestic consumption.”
It will take months for Iran to meet the requirements of the deal that would lift many of the sanctions on it, and it will also take time for it to restart production from mothballed oil fields.
Lots of money and effort will be needed to put those fields back into operation, and it’s unclear how quickly the fields can be revived to reach former production levels that have been suppressed or halted because of a lack of buyers.
“I don’t think it’s simply a matter of ... going out and opening a valve,” Smith said. “It’s going to take a lot longer than that.”
Overall, Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, expects the deal will mean that oil prices next year will follow a pattern similar to what’s played out in 2015.
He’s expecting gasoline prices to fall through the last quarter of this year and to hit about $2 per gallon on average by Christmas.
“Regardless of Iran, I think that from September to December, we’re going to see gasoline prices in most places drop by 10 to 15 cents per month,” he said.
Prolonged low oil prices are expected to hamper fracking operations in some areas, particularly the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, which stretches from Texas across the middle of Louisiana and into Mississippi. That’s because the hard-to-reach reserves can be costly to exploit.
Smith expects oil prices to fall by $5 a barrel within the year. That won’t slow production much, especially not in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
But low oil prices do benefit many consumers, including those in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, regular gasoline retail prices nationwide averaged $2.80 per gallon in June, up 8 cents per gallon for the month but down 89 cents from a year ago.
For drivers, low prices at the pump can mean more cash available to buy other goods and pay bills.
“It’s hard to argue that cheaper oil is not a good thing on net,” said Albrecht, the legislative economist.
Staff writers Timothy Boone and Mark Ballard contributed to this report. Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.