Continuing concerns over new Covid variants could hit oil demand and push the market into over-supply next year, according to consultancy Alphatanker.

There could be an average of 1.1m barrels per day (bpd) of surplus output across 2022, which implies that a notional 380m barrels of oil will be added to inventories, the company said.

Annual oil demand growth is projected at 3.2m bpd in 2022, with producers outside the Opec+ group forecast to supply 2.1m bpd of this.

"This leaves the alliance in a tricky spot if it continues to balance the market," Alphatanker said.

Market share will not be surrendered

To achieve this balance between demand and supply, Opec+'s crude production would need to average 42.5m bpd.

Alphatanker assesses the group's output at 43.5m bpd in December.

In theory, this could mean production cuts of 1m bpd instead of stated rises of 400,000 bpd, the company warned.

But Alphatanker says this will not happen, as it would mean ceding market share to the US, Norway, Guyana, Canada and Brazil.

"Our models suggest that the over-supply will be acute in the first half of 2022, as this is where demand is set to seasonally weaken," the consultancy said.

The return of Iranian oil would also be a headache for Opec+, Alphatanker said.

This would add 1.2m bpd to the group's output figure.

Silver linings

But it's not all bad news.

Alphatanker argues that, as Opec+ comes under pressure from surging US supplies, the group could "open the taps and fire the first shots" in another battle for market share.

This could send prompt crude prices significantly below $50 per barrel, causing floating storage levels to rise and giving tanker markets a "major" short-term boost.

And these weaker crude prices imply that bunker costs will also remain low, the company said.

Alphatanker believes tanker earnings in the first three months of 2022 will surpass those seen in the last three months of 2021.