Qatar's OPEC Exit Could Heighten Tensions With Saudi Arabia

Qatar's OPEC Exit Could Heighten Tensions With Saudi Arabia
Qatar's withdrawal comes a year after a Saudi-led coalition placed sanctions on the country over terrorism allegations.

Qatar's decision to leave OPEC may have as much to do with Saudi Arabia as it does with oil.

The friction between the two countries dates back to June 2017, after a Saudi-led coalition of four Arab nations imposed travel and trade sanctions on Qatar — an OPEC member since 1961 — over allegations of supporting terrorism, which Qatar denies.

While other nations tried to help both sides resolve the crisis, the blockade has remained in place. That's led to a number of repercussions, like the withdrawal of billions of dollars from Qatari banks. Although Qatar's economy never tanked, the resulting impact did make the government rethink its economic strategy. 

Compared to other members, Qatar is a small player in OPEC, ranking as the world's 17th-largest oil producer, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is in third place in production and remains the biggest oil exporter in the world. 

Despite being one of OPEC's smallest producers, Qatar's exit could still influence Saudi-Qatari relations. By leaving OPEC, which is unofficially led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar is able to free itself from a group influenced by the country that started the sanctions against it in 2017. However, Qatar claims the decision to leave OPEC wasn't political in nature.

In a statement, Qatar Petroleum — the state oil company — said, "The withdrawal decision reflects Qatar's desire to focus its efforts on plans to develop and increase its natural gas production."