Platts Survey: OPEC Pumps 31.2 Million Barrels of Crude Oil Per Day in September

Monthly Output Down 60,000 b/d from August; Saudi Arabia Was Only Member Country to Cut Supply

London - October 13, 2015

Oil production from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) totaled 31.2 million barrels per day (b/d) in September, down 60,000 b/d from August as Saudi Arabia further reined in supply, according to a just-released Platts survey of OPEC and oil industry officials and analysts.

"Given the Saudi oil minister's comments last week and OPEC's expectations of more balanced oil market fundamentals in the second half of next year, all the signals seem to point to yet another rollover of the current output ceiling in December," said Margaret McQuaile, senior correspondent for Platts, a leading global provider of energy and commodities information. OPEC ministers are next scheduled to meet in Vienna on December 4.

Saudi Arabia was the only member country to reduce supply last month. Small increases totaling 80,000 b/d came from Angola, Iran, Libya, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Saudi supply fell back to 10.26 million b/d in September from 10.4 million b/d in August, the survey estimated. But participants in the survey see Saudi Arabia's September dip as a response to market conditions rather than as indicative of a downward trend in output that might signal a policy change.

The kingdom has been pumping in excess of 10 million b/d since March and told OPEC it produced a record 10.56 million b/d at the wellhead in June.

The 10,000 b/d increase in Iranian output comes as Tehran prepares for the lifting of sanctions that will enable it to increase crude exports from current levels of around 1 million b/d. Iranian officials expect this to happen early next year. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAE) expects to issue a final report on Tehran's compliance with the mid-July nuclear deal by December 15.

Libyan production also rose by 10,000 b/d month on month, although volumes are still very low relative to the 1.58 million b/d the country was producing before the 2011 uprising. Earlier this month, on October 6, production stood at 426,000 b/d, Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of state-owned NOC, told Platts via email.

Some of the difficulties facing the Libyan oil sector are technical, with ongoing problems at fields in the east. At the same time, tribal rivalry has resulted in continued blockades of key oil infrastructure across the country, although last week saw the Zueitina terminal re-open to load its first cargo of crude in more than four months.

Uncertainty remains, too, over who will eventually run Libya, as there is still no political accord between the two rival governments claiming power.

The overall dip in OPEC output in September follows a 140,000 b/d drop in August, which was the first fall since February, and leaves OPEC overproducing its 30 million b/d output ceiling by 1.2 million b/d. However, even if OPEC wanted to enforce the official limit, which has been in place since the beginning of 2012, it has no mechanism for doing so as there are no individual country quotas.

As OPEC's December 4 meeting approaches, market-watchers will be looking for signals as to the likely outcome. But, nearly a year after the Saudi-led oil producer group decided to defend its share of the world oil market rather than cut production, there is no sign that a policy change may be in the offing.

Indeed, remarks by Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi, published in India's Economic Times a week ago, suggest that the world's top crude exporter has no plans to abandon its current strategy, despite prices having fallen by more than half since June last year.

Naimi was quoted as saying that oil prices were determined by the market, that economic producers would "continue to prevail" and that OPEC's market share would rise.

On Monday, OPEC upwardly revised its expectations of demand for its crude both this year and next to 29.6 million b/d and 30.8 million b/d as it lowered its non-OPEC supply projections. Indeed, it said, demand for OPEC crude could be as high as 31.4 million b/d in the second half of next year.

The high prices of recent years have enabled independent producers to develop high-cost reserves, including shale oil in the United States. But the price plunge from as high as $115 per barrel (/b) for Brent in mid-June last year has led to most international oil companies slashing spending. The International Energy Agency has already forecast a drop of 400,000 b/d drop in U. S. shale oil output -- the main driver of non-OPEC growth -- next year.

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