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OPEC: Crisis? What Crisis?

OPEC in Vienna was a sea of calm today with ministers and journalists alike enjoying one of the most relaxing meetings in memory. I've been covering OPEC in Vienna and elsewhere for five years plus and never have I seen ministers at such ease and the press pack more content to go along with the official line of "let's just wait and see."

For a start there was no MMC last night (the meeting at which OPEC collates data ahead of the full ministerial gathering today) but perhaps more telling there was no press scrum this time round, an event at which limbs and lives can be lost as the pack surges to get their questions in to the waiting ministers.

Why? It's simple. A phoney war is being waged ahead of stormier times ahead. Everyone knows there are some tough decisions that need to be made pretty soon as the world teeters on the brink of a U.S.-led recession. Everyone knows that in five weeks we'll all be back here with the oil-producing doves coming under intense pressure from the more hawkish members who will inevitably push for cuts in production to keep prices just where they are.

Oil Refinery
Oil Refinery

For now, though, the lack of clarity on whether the US slowdown is hurting overall fuel demand meant we could all sit back and enjoy the status quo. Sure the oil consuming nations are repeating their mantra that more oil is needed but they have toned down the rhetoric because they fear an economic retreat as much as anyone.

I chatted with the Secretary General of OPEC Abdalla Salem El-Badri and once again he refused to give any clues as to what price oil should be. But, as ever, he repeated that the OPEC thirteen were producing as much oil as the world wanted from it, which is currently a figure just north of 32 million barrels a day with more available as and when it is wanted.

I also managed to grab an interview with the Nigerian oil minister Odein Ajumogobia. There's been a lot of consternation recently about changing terms for the international oil companies as they run up against a more hard-line approach from countries handing out production agreements.

Ajumogobia confirmed that times were a-changin' and said that the likes of Shell had had it good for a long time and, yes, the terms would be tighter going forward.

So, watch this space. March 5 will be the date of the next Vienna get-together and if we have further signs of a global slowdown by then the relaxed atmosphere will be gone and it'll be business as usual here at OPEC.