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The Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Saudi Arabia announced an oil production cut of 500,000 barrels per day on Tuesday, just weeks after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said "U.S. friends in the Middle East" would compensate for the drastic decline in Venezuelan oil production driven by U.S. sanctions.

Why it matters: Although U.S. production continues to rise, it still accounts for only 11% of global consumption, compared to OPEC’s 32%. The recent supply cuts illustrate that sudden disruptions and U.S. sanctions that take oil out of the market can put OPEC, and Saudi Arabia specifically, back in charge of global oil prices.

Background: The U.S. economy is 60% less oil-intensive than it was in the 1970s, with virtually no oil used in electricity generation and limited quantities in manufacturing. Still, the transportation sector — with 350 million liquid-fuel cars on the road — has made little progress reducing its overwhelming dependence on oil-based fuels. That means Americans remain susceptible to the effects of an oil-price shock.

Yes, but: President Trump has shown a willingness to release the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which could help drive down prices in the event of further supply reductions. This is particularly pertinent for Saudi Arabia, which shut down an oilfield after a power accident two weeks ago, and Venezuela, whose oil sector would need several years, billions of dollars and new foreign investment to return to previous production levels, even with a change in government.

What's new: Trump, together with Congress, appears to have one other card up his sleeve. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill that would subject the assets of any oil-producing country that participates in an OPEC agreement — or even individual countries with side agreements to limit oil supply — to U.S. antitrust action, including federal lawsuits to force sales of subsidiaries and compensation payments to harmed parties.

  • That threat alone caused Qatar to quit OPEC, and prompted its secretariat to caution members against making explicit statements about using production cuts to reach a particular price.

What to watch: While OPEC has the reins for the moment, the threat of the House bill might give Trump more leverage over the organization and its members and collaborators.

Amy Myers Jaffe is the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of its program on energy security and climate change.

Go deeper

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

2 hours ago - World

Zelensky questions U.S. warnings of "imminent" invasion in Biden call

Biden and Zelensky at the White House last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a back-and-forth in their call this evening about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, according to three sources briefed on the call.

Why it matters: Biden has said previously that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably "move in" to Ukraine, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that "an invasion could come at any time."