Did the US inadvertently finance Putin’s war on Ukraine with short-sighted, politically motivated, and irrational energy and climate policies? And did those failed policies fuel inflation to the obscene rate of 7.87%? Were the geopolitical consequences and the enormous economic costs of those policies predictable and avoidable? The short answers are yes, yes, and yes. Anyone in the Biden Administration could have “done the math” and seen how rising energy prices would continue to fill Putin’s coffers, funding his military build-up, and contribute to runaway inflation here at home.
The oil and gas industry is the cornerstone of the US economy and will continue to be for years to come. Crude oil and natural gas prices impact not only the price of gas at the pump but virtually everything we buy. Petroleum is an ingredient in all types of consumer goods, which are then transported using ships, planes, trains, and trucks fueled with petroleum products. Natural gas powers over 40% of our electrical grid, heats our homes, and is a substantial component in the cost of manufacturing almost everything.
Crude oil and natural gas prices also impact the economic health and behavior of global adversaries like Russia and China. Russia is one of the top three largest oil and natural gas producers in the world. According to the Russian Ministry of Finance, oil and natural gas export revenues constituted 36% of their total federal revenues in 2021. That amounts to over 9 trillion rubles or $121 billion in 2021 alone. Russia sold 48% of its oil and 72% of its natural gas production to European countries.
By contrast, in 2021, America bought only 1% of Russia’s crude oil and none of their natural gas in 2021. 1% doesn’t sound like much but it does amount to 245 million barrels and over $16 billion in revenue to Russia (@$65/barrel average). But our imports of Russian crude are only a small part of the story.
The real story of how Putin financed his war on Ukraine is about the rapidly rising price of crude oil and natural gas over the past several years. If the market price of oil and natural gas had remained relatively stable, Russia would only have made modest profits on its fossil fuel exports. As prices rose, Putin began making a killing and is using those windfalls to build and maintain his war machine.
Russia’s total cost (excluding taxes) of crude oil production is estimated to be between $32 and $44 per barrel. In 2019, the average price for crude was about $60 per barrel. Assuming a production cost of say $40 per barrel, Russia earned a profit of $20 per barrel. But when the average price reached $100 per barrel, their profits triple to $60 per barrel. For reference, Russia’s baseline oil production rose to 11.5 million barrels per day in 2021 and they exported 4.7 million barrels per day.
This translates to a total of 1.7 billion barrels exported in 2021 alone (4.7 x 365). A reasonable crude oil price of $60 per barrel and a profit of $20 per barrel nets Russia $34 billion per year. When crude is over $100 as it is today, Russia makes $60 a barrel and a whopping $102 billion per year! That’s a $68 billion windfall ($102-$34), simply because the US allowed the market price of crude to become artificially and unnecessarily high.