As gas prices seesaw up and down at the pump and Americans reluctantly pay more to fill their tanks as the economy slows, OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting States) could not agree on whether or not to increase production and provide some relief. The two key factors are Saudi Arabia and Iran. At an unusually contentious meeting, the 12-nation group could not reach agreement on new production targets. That sets the stage for higher prices for oil and gas later this year as world demand for oil rises faster than supplies. Saudi Arabia favored an increase in output, which likely would have translated to lower oil prices. Other countries – such as Iran — resisted, arguing that oil supplies are adequate to meet demand and current prices are on target. “We are unable to reach consensus,” OPEC Secretary General Abdullah Al-Badri said. Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi called the meeting “one of the worst ever.”
Writing on the Salon website,Andrew Leonard points out that China is partially to blame for high prices at the gas pump. According to Leonard, “If you want to know why gas prices are high, and why, in the long run, they will keep getting higher, all you need to do is peruse BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2011 report. Bottom line: World oil consumption hit an all-time record high of 87.4 million barrels a day in 2010, driven by a surge in demand from emerging nations, but primarily led by China. China has now overtaken the U.S. as the world’s largest energy consumer, with demand for all kinds of energy growing 11.2 percent in 2010. In 2010, Chinese oil consumption grew by 860,000 barrels a day. Since 2000, China’s oil consumption has grown an incredible 90 percent. Supply, globally, is not keeping up with demand growth. And barring a major global economic meltdown, that dynamic is not going to change. The rest of the world is going to continue to consume more oil, and finding and developing new sources of oil is going to continue to get more expensive. And Obama can’t do a damn thing about it, except to put in place policies that encourage U.S. consumers to consume as little oil as possible.”
The Saudis and the Iranians frequently lock horns over pricing at OPEC meetings. Typically, however, member nations follow Saudi Arabia’s lead, which produces most of the group’s oil. This time the Saudi-Iranian rivalry resulted in a deadlock. The International Energy Agency (IEA) had urged oil producers to put more crude on the market. “Ongoing supply disruptions, as well as the fragile state of the global economy, call for a prompt increase in supply,” the agency said. Iran, the second largest OPEC member after Saudi Arabia, is the leading price “hawk,” favoring expensive oil. Saudi Arabia has consistently acted to moderate prices.
“Looking to the remainder of this year, the expected supply/demand balance indicates a tightening market,” OPEC’s report said. “As a result, global inventories could continue to decline as the market enters a period of high seasonal demand.” OPEC’s member nations include Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.
According to the IEA, demand for OPEC crude will average 29.95 million bpd (barrels per day) in the 2nd half of 2011, or 1.2 million bpd more than April production of 28.75 million bpd. Analysts said OPEC’s report had minimal impact on oil prices and a bigger focus would be the IEA’s latest forecasts. “It’s absolutely market neutral,” said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix. “What’s going to matter more is the IEA report when we will be able to see if there are any more changes.” OPEC’s May oil output rose by approximately 171,000 bpd to 28.97 million bpd as extra supplies from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Iraq offset declining production from Libya. The report said Saudi output totaled 8.86 million bpd in May. Saudi newspaper al-Hayat reported that Riyadh would boost supplies to 10 million bpd in July and oil traders said the kingdom was offering more to Asian customers, because they are driving the increase in global demand. The world is expected to use 1.38 million bpd of oil more this year than in 2010, OPEC’s report said.
OPEC’s daily production is bound by quotas of 26.32 million bpd in May of 2011, according to the group’s monthly report. That’s an increase from 26.17 million bpd in April, OPEC said. Saudi Arabian output climbed to 8.86 million bpd in May, compared with 8.8 million in April. OPEC’s total supply, including Iraq, was 28.97 million bpd May compared with 28.8 million the previous month. Libyan supplies fell to 169,000 bpd in May as the conflict between forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi and anti- government rebels halted output. That compares with an average 1.56 million last year. OPEC, which provides approximately 40 percent of the world’s crude oil, announced its biggest-ever supply cuts in late 2008 when the financial crisis caused a collapse in global demand. The decision capped production at 24.845 million bpd for all members except Iraq, which is exempt from the quota system.
“Now we are unhappy that we did not reach a decision but this is not the end of the world,” al-Badri said.”It was not political, it was really an economic situation. Of course, for the past six years we have enjoyed a very relaxed atmosphere, now we have some tension. I hope we will overcome it.”