Brent Crude vs. West Texas Intermediate: An Overview

The major difference between the crude oils Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate is that Brent Crude originates from oil fields in the North Sea between the Shetland Islands and Norway, while West Texas Intermediate is sourced from U.S. oil fields, primarily in Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota. Both Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate are light and sweet, making them ideal for refining into gasoline.

Brent Crude

Brent Crude is more ubiquitous, and most oil is priced using Brent Crude as the benchmark, akin to two-thirds of all oil pricing. Brent Crude is produced near the sea, so transportation costs are significantly lower. In contrast, West Texas Intermediate is produced in landlocked areas, making transportation costs more onerous.

A surge of WTI production has led many traders to consider it an important pricing benchmark vs. Brent, if not even close to the total production of the latter.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) controls most of the brent production and distribution, often dictating costs for not only oil suppliers, but countries as well. Most nations factor oil prices into their budgets, and so OPEC has been considered a leading geopolitical force.

West Texas Intermediate

In the United States, West Texas Intermediate is the preferred measure and pricing model. It is also slightly less "sweet" than Brent. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is slightly lower in price than Brent. As of May 25, 2019, WTI was trading at $58.63 a barrel, while Brent traded at $67.47. The offshore oil rigs, despite being in the news more often, most famously with the BP oil leak of 2010, are heavily traded as barometers of domestic oil market health.

Key Differences

There has been a trend, due to advancements in oil drilling and fracking, of West Texas Intermediate has become cheaper than Brent Crude oil. Prior to this, Brent Crude tended to be cheaper than West Texas Crude. This has been dubbed the American shale revolution, and the increased production led oil prices to fall from above $100 to below $50 from the summer of 2014 to the spring of 2015.

The price of oil is a major factor in the overall health of the energy complex, and is one of the most heavily traded commodities as it is influenced by almost every global, macro event.

Another factor that can lead to significant differences between Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate is geopolitical trouble. During times of crisis, the spread blows out as political uncertainty leads to surges in Brent Crude prices. West Texas Intermediate is less affected because it is based in landlocked areas in the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • Brent Crude and West Texas Intermediate dominate the oil market, and both dictate pricing in their respective markets.
  • OPEC, a group of 14 of the most powerful oil exporting countries, use Brent as their pricing benchmark. They are considered an extremely powerful group, as oil prices dictate the budgets and policies of many countries.
  • The Shale Revolution of the early 2000s skyrocketed production in North America, leading to an oversupply in oil during that time period, and relevant low pricing.