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OPEC set for a collision course over production policy ahead of landmark meeting

Key Points
  • The gathering of OPEC and other exporters in Vienna, Austria, is already shaping up to be one of the most contentious meetings in years.
  • Saudi Arabia and Russia — the largest non-OPEC crude producer — are both pushing for members to loosen supply controls.
  • "If OPEC doesn't do something I think we will see $100 oil price," Scott Sheffield, executive chairman at Pioneer Natural Resources Company, said Wednesday.
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OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia is struggling to convince some of the world's largest oil producers over the need to increase oil output ahead of a key meeting on Friday.

The Middle-East-dominated oil cartel is not scheduled to make a decision over production policy until later this week, although the gathering of OPEC and other exporters in Vienna, Austria, is already shaping up to be one of the most contentious meetings in years.

Saudi Arabia and Russia — the largest non-OPEC crude producer — are both pushing for members to loosen supply controls. This comes at time of heightened pressure from President Donald Trump, who has publicly complained the group is to blame for crude prices recently soaring to multi-year highs.

Nonetheless, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told reporters Tuesday that OPEC members are likely to leave the Austrian capital this week without agreeing on a path forward for their 18-month policy of limiting oil output.

Instead, Zanganeh accused Trump of using oil as a political "weapon " and said the U.S. president had created difficulty for the energy market by imposing sanctions against Iran and Venezuela.

Missing in action

Speaking in Vienna on Wednesday morning, deputy energy ministers from both Saudi Arabia and Russia — who appeared to step in for Khalid Al-Falih and Alexander Novak respectively — called for OPEC and other exporters to continue to work together.

"The opening remarks seem to clearly signal intention of the key sovereign players to respond to concerns of consumers and put some additional barrels on the market. Key question is what the MIA (missing in action) panel ministers are doing today to bridge the gap with the holdouts," Helima Croft, RBC's global head of commodity strategy, said Wednesday.

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Russia has proposed OPEC and non-OPEC producers increase output by 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd). If implemented, that would effectively eradicate existing supply cuts of 1.8 million bpd that have helped to rebalance the energy market and prop up crude prices.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia appears interested in a hike of only 500,000-600,000 bpd. To be sure, it is not unusual for oil producers to stake out maximalist positions ahead of a high-stakes meeting.

'Oil prices will hit $100' without OPEC action

The prospect of an agreement between OPEC and its allied partners this week would seem to rest among those members who are currently firmly opposed to a relaxation of supply cuts.

Alongside Iran — which is seen as the main barrier to any agreement — Iraq, Venezuela and Algeria are all against Saudi Arabia and Russia's calls for rising production levels, fearing a slump in prices.

"If OPEC doesn't do something I think we will see $100 oil price," Scott Sheffield, executive chairman at Pioneer Natural Resources Company, said Wednesday.

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International benchmark Brent crude stood at around $75 a barrel Wednesday, recovering from lows of $27 a barrel in 2016.

"We appreciate our work never stops. It's still a work in progress. We are fully committed to sustaining balance and stability," OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo said Wednesday.