A prominent figure in the international oil industry, Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, the secretary general of OPEC, died Tuesday in Nigeria, his home country, according to the oil producers group.
No cause of death was given. Mr. Barkindo, 63, had followed a busy schedule on Tuesday, giving a speech at a conference and meeting with Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr. Barkindo took the helm of the oil producers’ group in 2016, during a turbulent period after prices had collapsed.
An OPEC secretary general’s role is not to set policy but to implement the wishes of the organization’s members, who are de facto led by Saudi Arabia. He had a moderating influence at OPEC, and helped make the group, whose workings are often mysterious to outsiders, better known to a wider audience, including in the United States. “Barkindo created a positive image of OPEC,” wrote Ibrahim AlMuhanna, a former Saudi oil official, in “Oil Leaders,” a recent book.
He was scheduled to leave his position at the end of July. In January, OPEC declined to give Mr. Barkindo a third term, and chose Haitham Al-Ghais, a veteran oil official from Kuwait, as his successor.
There is no indication that the change of leadership will influence how much oil OPEC produces.
Heading OPEC can be a tricky job that requires staying on the good side of officials with big egos and countries with competing interests, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are often at odds over oil and other issues.
“He was great diplomatically,” said Amrita Sen, the head of oil at Energy Aspects, a research firm. “He did it with great flair.”
Mr. Barkindo came to head OPEC after a long career as an industry official and executive, including a brief stint as head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
He was often credited with helping to revive and strengthen OPEC at a time when it was on the defensive because of surging oil production in the United States.
In a statement on Wednesday, OPEC said that Mr. Barkindo had “played a key role” in forming the wider group that came to be called OPEC Plus, which includes Russia, in 2016. OPEC also said that Mr. Barkindo had helped the group navigate major downturns, including oil price falls in 2015-16 and during the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
Bringing Russia into decision-making on oil output was likely the most important change that occurred under Mr. Barkindo’s leadership. During the last five years, Riyadh and Moscow have often called the shots on production, with other OPEC members largely forced to go along.
Having Russia as an ally bolstered OPEC’s clout in its efforts to manage markets, but Riyadh now has a problem in deciding whether Moscow should continue as a co-leader of OPEC Plus. Russian production is being slowed by sanctions over the war in Ukraine, and it is no longer clear that Saudi Arabia and Russia share interests to the extent that they did previously.
For instance, the Saudis will probably want to send more oil to Europe to replace supplies from Russia as Europe’s embargo tightens, while Moscow might prefer that Europe felt the strain of the measures it is taking to punish the Kremlin for the war in Ukraine.
In his last speech, at an oil conference in Nigeria, Mr. Barkindo warned that the oil industry, in which he had spent his career, was now facing huge challenges, including volatile commodity prices because of geopolitics as well as pressures to reduce oil and gas consumption to mitigate climate change.
Mr. Barkindo suggested that it was unfair to blame the oil industry and oil producing countries for the current high prices. He said it was unrealistic to expect an instant recovery from the ravages of the pandemic that helped sap investment in the industry.
“You cannot turn a tap and solve the world’s oil needs overnight,” he said.