U.S. crude futures contracts settled lower on Tuesday as traders looked beyond price defense attempts by Russia and Venezuela and toward Saudi Arabia and OPEC for fresh leads on whether the cartel will cut production when it meets later this month.
Saudi Arabia, the most powerful member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the world's No. 1 oil exporter, raised crude shipments in September, data showed on Tuesday, despite signs of an oversupplied market.
The Saudi data weighed on sentiment, helping push U.S. crude prices to near the four-year lows they hit on Friday.
Front-month U.S. crude settled $1.03 lower, or 1.4 percent, at $74.61 a barrel, after hitting a session low of $74.23 earlier. Benchmark was down for a sixth session, 69 cents lower at $78.62 after falling as low as $78.21.
Crude prices fell even after U.S. stockpiles were forecast to have dropped by 1.2 million barrels last week, according to a Reuters survey.
OPEC will meet in Vienna on Nov. 27. Venezuela and Russia are among oil exporters trying to get the cartel to cut output and boost prices following Brent's 30 percent fall since June.
"We're trading every OPEC headline now, but it's what the Saudis say, or don't, that will make a difference over the next nine days, barring what OPEC's stand itself is as a group," said Joseph Posillico, senior vice president of energy futures at Jefferies LLC in New York.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Monday a special global meeting on oil price defense was being planned "very soon." The head of Russia's state-backed oil company, Rosneft, is scheduled to fly to Vienna two days before the OPEC meeting.
The Saudis haven't agreed to a cut yet, and Venezuela is a less influential OPEC member than Saudi Arabia. Russia, a big oil producer but not an OPEC member, has failed in previous attempts to persuade the cartel to cut production.
Goldman Sachs said in a research note dated Nov. 17 that Brent may need to go as low as $60 to slow production if OPEC does not agree to a cut.
CNBC contributed to this report.