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OPEC to decide on oil production quota     Send a link to a friend

[September 11, 2007]  VIENNA, Austria  (AP) -- OPEC was deciding Tuesday whether to maintain its production quota or give it a modest and symbolic boost to calm oil markets worried that there may not be enough crude to meet global demand by year's end.

Despite resistance by Venezuela and a few other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, key oil ministers said they were discussing the possibility of raising the cartel's current official output target by another 500,000 to 700,000 barrels a day.

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If approved, it would be a purely token increase, since the 12-nation group -- which supplies about 40 percent of the world's crude -- already is pumping at least 1 million barrels a day over its current official quota of 25.8 million barrels a day.

OPEC President Mohamed Al Hamli, who doubles as energy minister for the United Arab Emirates, conceded in his opening address that there were "continuing uncertainties about the world oil demand outlook, exacerbated recently by financial markets turmoil."

But he added: "OPEC will continue monitoring oil market developments and will act in a timely and adequate manner, should there be indications of a shortage of crude."

Analysts said a small but symbolic increase would send a message to jittery markets that OPEC is paying attention to stubbornly high prices and expectations that global demand will spike as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere.

"We're in a different market than we were in a few months ago," Algeria's energy minister, Chakib Khelil, said before the cartel began its closed-door consultations.

Iran's acting oil minister, Gholam Hossein Nozari, told reporters Tuesday that OPEC can't be held responsible for the world's economic woes.

"The economic situation does not depend only on OPEC," he said.

Although OPEC feels generally confident it can keep current production and prices in balance, it is weighing a host of factors that "may compel them to turn the spigot up a notch," said Anthony Sabino, a professor of business law at St. John's University in New York.

Light, sweet crude for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 3 cents to $77.52 a barrel in electronic trading, while October Brent crude fell 13 cents to $75.35 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Saudi Arabia, OPEC's No. 1 producer and the member with the most sway, was the wild card. The oil-rich kingdom made no public statements, adding a touch of suspense heading into Tuesday's deliberations.

Libya's oil minister said Tuesday there was no consensus on an output increase, and Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez stuck by his contention that production targets should not be changed.

Even if OPEC boosts crude output, a 2-3 percent higher quota would not necessarily mean an increase in actual oil on the market because the cartel already is pumping well over its target.

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And crude oil needs refining, which can mean a holdup of at least 40 days, said Eshan Ul-Haq, chief analyst for Vienna's PVM Oil Associates.

"It all takes time," said Ul-Haq, who estimates OPEC has a spare capacity of up to 3.15 million barrels a day.

Ul-Haq also noted that the United Arab Emirates is scheduled to perform maintenance on its oil fields this autumn, and that the work would force it to cut production by roughly 400,000 barrels a day -- at least temporarily negating any 500,000-barrel increase.

With oil prices hovering around $77 a barrel, pressure has built on OPEC to intervene. Crude traded as high as $78.77 a barrel in early August on the Nymex, and many market-watchers see $80 as the new threshold.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency repeatedly has urged the group to raise crude output at this week's meeting, arguing that global demand is likely to outstrip supply with the advent of winter.

Many OPEC members said they felt no compulsion to act quickly, since demand for gasoline and diesel fuel has slackened with the end of the summer driving season.

Others said they were still assessing the impact on the global economy of the slump in the U.S. housing market.

With mortgage defaults rising, lenders have tightened conditions on loans to prospective U.S. home buyers, and the slowdown has stoked fears of a recession and reduced demand for oil and gasoline.

The 12 OPEC members are Algeria, Angola, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.


On the Net:

OPEC: http://www.opec.org/

[Associated Press; by William J. Kole]

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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