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OPEC debates deeper production cuts to push up oil price

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 5, 2019

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, Minister of Energy of Saudi Arabia, arrives for a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Ronald Zak / AP)
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, Minister of Energy of Saudi Arabia, arrives for a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Ronald Zak / AP)
By Kiyoko Metzler and Cathy Bussewitz Associated Press

VIENNA – The countries that make up the OPEC oil-producing cartel are meeting Thursday to decide whether to cut production even further in order to support the price of fuel and energy around the world.

The group is expected to prolong production cuts they’ve agreed on for the past three years, and some experts believe they could deepen them to support prices. The price of crude has been capped in recent years by a resurgence in supplies from countries outside OPEC, particularly the United States.

They’re negotiating through a tangle of tensions driving members in competing directions.

Saudi Aramco’s stock market debut, which will get off the ground Thursday when the state-run oil giant prices its shares, has put Saudi Arabia in a precarious position as it bets on what volume of oil production will hit a sweet spot for prices, with the added pressure of considering the interests of its shareholders. The nation is already bearing the burden of the largest share of OPEC’s production cuts.

But some nations such as Iraq have been ignoring the agreement and producing more than their allotted amount.

As it stands, OPEC nations have agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day through March 2020, and most analysts expect OPEC nations to extend those production cuts until at least summer.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, whose country is not part of OPEC but joins part of the meeting to coordinate production, said Thursday that the group was discussing a further cut of 500,000 barrels a day “in order to safely go through the seasonal demand trough in the first quarter 2020.”

“Of course this is only a recommendation which will be made to the OPEC conference and to the ministerial meeting tomorrow, because those are the only two formations which can actually make a decision,” Novak said. “But they will be reviewing these recommendations.“

Analysts note that if countries are already not complying with the current agreement, voting for more cuts could be pointless.

“I think the Saudi position is they’re willing to cut more if needed, but they want better compliance,” said Bhushan Bahree, executive director of global oil at research group IHS Markit.

Outside the OPEC building, environmental activists were holding a small demonstration against the use of fossil fuels. The future of such carbon-intensive fuels is one of the key topics of a big UN meeting in Madrid on how to fight climate change.

Brent crude oil hovered near $64 per barrel Thursday. Prices have fluctuated throughout the year, reaching nearly $75 per barrel in April after U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela limited world supply, but lingering trade tensions between the U.S. and China dampened economic expectations, pushing prices back down.

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark crude, was trading at almost $59, and its price followed a similar trajectory throughout the year.

“If they just keep the existing situation, then you get this massive oversupply,” said Jacques Rousseau, managing director at Clearview Energy Partners.

Rousseau believes OPEC nations will cut production further to keep supply and demand in balance during the first half of next year, with the cuts made mainly by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But substantial cuts may be difficult to achieve with some OPEC members following their own agendas.

“Iraq has exceeded its production target every month this year,” Rousseau said. “Granted, there’s some unrest going on in the country, but I don’t think they’ll voluntarily reduce.”

Meanwhile, Russia has indicated it wants its oil production re-calculated in a way that’s in line with OPEC nations. That could enable it to produce more oil.

And even if members of the cartel cut production, there’s more oil coming online from non-OPEC nations including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Norway and Guyana, which will more than make up for any drop in production, according to IHS Markit.

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