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Energy prices set for roller-coaster ride as Russia weighs in

By Paula Newton, CNN
Gazprom chief Alexei Miller made his remarks about North Africa's "reliabilty" to NTV, a Gazprom-owned broadcaster.
Gazprom chief Alexei Miller made his remarks about North Africa's "reliabilty" to NTV, a Gazprom-owned broadcaster.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Head of energy giant Gazprom tells West that Mideast supplies may not be reliable
  • Energy analysts tense about possible "superspike" in oil prices
  • OPEC has said spare capacity exists to moderate price spikes
  • Economist: Mideast uprisings and possibly overstated Saudi reserves are big concerns

(CNN) -- While he fell short of bluntly saying, "I told you so," Alexei Miller, arguably Russia's most powerful energy executive, warned the West that it may not be able to count on Mideast and North African energy supplies as it once did.

Coming from Miller, the chief of Russian energy giant Gazprom, it was a not-too-subtle nudge that global importers of energy, especially Europe, should invest more in Russian oil and gas capacity.

"The question about the reliability of gas deliveries from North Africa to Europe should be more critically examined than it is currently." said Miller in comments to NTV, a Gazprom-owned Russian broadcaster.

Gazprom told CNN its executives were not available to further clarify his comments. However, Gazprom has been one of many Russian energy companies trying to attract more foreign investment to further exploit its vast and proven oil and gas reserves.

"Perhaps Russia is trying to issue some friendly advice (to the West) that maybe it's time to diversify our sources of energy. It is good for Russia for it's certainly in a position to do more." said Liam Halligan, chief economist of Prosperity Capital in London.

The assumption that we can assume stability in, say, Saudi Arabia ... is now going to be doubted by the markets.
--Charles Robertson, Renaissance Capital chief economist
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According to U.S. government statistics, Russia is the world's largest oil producer and second-largest exporter after Saudi Arabia.

But the timely, if opportunistic, warning darkened an already jittery mood among energy analysts as some now discussed the possibility of an oil "superspike" that could fuel a commodities crisis in the months to come.

How high could oil go? While industry insiders agree a spike of $200 a barrel is unlikely, many are now unwilling to rule out that kind of a price range. Oil cartel OPEC has tried to calm concerns, saying spare capacity exists to soften the blow and moderate price spikes. But some now doubt the organization has a handle on spare capacity.

"There is growing concern in the market that there isn't the spare capacity in Saudi Arabia that the markets have been told there is," said Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital.

"The second problem is that the markets can't be as relaxed about the Middle East and North African now as they were even a week or two ago," he said.

"What matters about Libya is that you've seen a regime which has been stable for the better part of 30 years and is in danger of being overthrown. The assumption that we can assume stability in, say Saudi Arabia, or other countries around the Gulf, that assumption is now going to be doubted by the markets," Robertson said.