OPEC: Don't Blame Us for $100 Oil

OPEC officials lined up to say the exporter group could do little to tame oil prices that hit $100 a barrel for the first time on Wednesday and world markets had enough crude oil.

The comments underline the view of the producer group that factors other than supply are driving oil's record run.

Officials said there was no plan for an emergency OPEC meeting before a scheduled Feb. 1 gathering.

"The problem is not shortage of supply," Hojjatollah Ghanimifard, international affairs director at the National Iranian Oil Company, told Reuters on Thursday. Iran is OPEC's second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia.

"I think the main problem is outside the oil market. Too much liquidity is available," Ghanimifard said. "A big part of it is in the paper market of crude oil."

Oil in New York hit $100 a barrel on Wednesday, the first trading day of the year, and analysts said the price could make further gains. Crude rallied almost 58 percent last year and is up from below $20 in early 2002.

OPEC, source of more than a third of the world's oil, decided to keep oil output steady at a Dec. 5 meeting, rebuffing calls from consumer countries for more supply to rein in prices
then trading around $90.

Supply Not the Problem

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cannot tame the price rise because it is not a result of supply problems, Qatar's oil minister told Reuters on Wednesday.

"I don't think OPEC can do anything," Qatar's Abdullah al-Attiyah said. "If this was related to supply then we could move."

"Speculation has been very strong. It's a game for speculators."

The 13-member OPEC holds its next meeting on Feb. 1 in Vienna and has no plan to gather before then, Attiyah said.

Some in the group share consumer country concerns about the impact of high energy costs on economic growth as the U.S. slowdown threatens to spill over into the global economy.

"Demand will be affected, it is not very happy news because it brings a lot of reaction from the demand side," said an official from a member country, asked abut $100 oil.

"If it filters down to consumers, it will affect demand in the long term. It will cause inflation -- it is not good for us as well."

Oil held within a whisker of $100 on Thursday, fueled by expectations of falling U.S. inventories, the weak dollar and a fresh wave of violence in OPEC producer Nigeria.

Indonesia, with limited influence on OPEC policy as one of the group's smallest producers and a net oil importer, was alone so far in suggesting that the group could raise output.

The country's OPEC governor, Maizar Rahman, told Reuters on Thursday that oil could climb even higher, hurting economic growth in developing countries which do not produce oil.

"There is a possibility the oil price can head to the $100-$110 level," he said.