The end of two-year policy of pumping without limits?

Mohammed Barkindo
Mohammed Barkindo

OPEC embarked on a final diplomatic effort to secure an oil-cuts deal, with its top official heading on a tour of member states as Russia scheduled informal talks in Doha this week with nations including Saudi Arabia. The behind-the-scenes diplomacy follows an unannounced meeting in London between OPEC Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo and Saudi Minister of Energy and Industry Khalid Al-Falih, said one OPEC delegate. Just two weeks before the group’s Nov. 30 ministerial meeting in Vienna, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran are still at odds over how to share output cuts, said another delegate.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has yet to find a path to finalize the preliminary cuts deal reached in Algiers on Sept. 28, which ended a two-year policy of pumping without limits. Oil prices rallied to nearly $54/bbl in October after the outline of the deal was announced, but as of last week had lost all their gains as doubts over the deal grew again. Prices recovered more than 5% Tuesday to near $47 after Bloomberg reported the renewed diplomatic push. Brent futures traded at $47.12 at 1:21 p.m. Singapore time.

OPEC countries are “all hands on deck to meet this target date of Nov. 30th and to implement in full the agreement,” Barkindo said Tuesday in an interview at a climate conference in Morocco. Barkindo will travel to Caracas, Quito and Tehran for talks in the coming days, said two people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday he will meet with Barkindo in Caracas on Wednesday.

Russia will hold informal consultations with representatives of some OPEC countries at the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Doha on Nov. 17-18, the Energy Ministry in Moscow said in a statement Tuesday. The energy minister of Saudi Arabia, which is not a member of the group, will join the talks, said an OPEC delegate.

Saudi Arabia, the group’s de-facto leader, is ready to cut production, but only if the effort is built around four pillars, said the delegate. All members must agree to collective action, pledge to share the burden of cuts equitably, and do so in a way that is transparent and has credibility with the market. The latter can be achieved by using OPEC estimates of how much each member pumps, rather than relying on the countries’ own estimates, the delegate said.

In practice, that means Saudi Arabia still thinks Iraq needs to cut output and Iran has to freeze production around current levels, the person said. Neither country has so far agreed to do that. As initially outlined in Algiers, Libya and Nigeria would be exempt from supply curbs. Barkindo reiterated that there are three countries—Libya, Nigeria and Iran—that have been granted “special considerations” to implement the accord. Iraq isn’t one of them, he said. Secondary sources are the basis for the Algiers deal, he said. Iran is considering a proposal to freeze its oil production near the level the country says it pumps—nearly 4 MMbpd—rather than OPEC’s estimate of about 3.7 MMbpd, the delegate said. Iraq is mulling a cut, but only from the Oil Ministry’s own level of about 4.8 MMbpd, not the 4.6 MMbpd OPEC says it pumps, the person said.

Iraq has sought an exemption from joining any production cuts, arguing that its fight against Islamic State justifies special treatment. Iran has insisted it won’t accept any limits on its production until it has returned to the pre-sanctions level of about 4 MMbopd. “People are pretty pessimistic right now about a potential agreement,” BP CEO Bob Dudley said in a Bloomberg Television interview from Riyadh. “You see that in the price,” he said. If the talks fail, prices “will stay around the level we’re at.” As OPEC nations worked to secure a deal, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal led a delegation, which includes the Energy Minister Noureddine Boutarfa, for a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia starting Monday, state-run Algerian Press Service reported. Boutarfa plans to travel from there to Doha. Qatar and Algeria were the architects of previous attempts this year to reach an OPEC deal to limit supply, while Venezuela’s energy minister played go-between for Iran and other members of the group. Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran are the largest producers within OPEC, accounting for about 55% of the group’s output, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. OPEC pledged in Algiers to bring its production down to a range of 32.5 MMbopd to 33 MMbopd, which compares with output of 33.6 million last month. The group is also seeking cooperation from Russia and other producers outside the group, although so far none have committed to curbing output. Without a deal, the International Energy Agency predicted that 2017 will be the fourth consecutive year in which supply runs ahead of demand. "If the supply surplus persists in 2017 there must be some risk of prices falling back," the IEA said in its closely watched monthly report Nov. 10.


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