VIENNA — OPEC oil ministers signaled Wednesday that they have agreed to stick to present output targets while remaining undecided on who should fill a senior post coveted both by Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The 12-nation cartel is pushing out more than 31 million barrels a day — more than 1 million barrels more than the ceiling it has agreed on. That output is the highest in four years, when calculated over 12 months. Robust U.S. production and anemic world demand due to flagging economic growth have added to the mix, resulting in unusually high crude inventories. OPEC predicts even less demand next year.
Yet prices remain relatively high. The average cost of the group’s oil basket — a mix of grades produced by OPEC countries — has been above $100 a barrel for the last two years, a first in OPEC’s history. Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, has also been well over $100 a barrel for this year.
Such levels cover production costs for most OPEC countries with room for profits, meaning OPEC ministers at their meeting in Vienna were unlikely to see a need to cut back.
Some ministers suggested OPEC could rethink its stance sometime next year.
“I don’t think there is oversupply at the moment, but we tend to look in advance and over the next 12-18 months,” said Nigerian Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke ahead of Wednesday’s closed meeting. “Particularly with the shale
oil that is coming in from the U.S.”
There was less agreement on what could turn into a bigger problem than output — whom to settle on for the post of OPEC secretary-general. The decision is important because post represents the public face of the organization and a symbol of the cohesion the group likes to project despite persistent internal rivalries.
It will be the third time this year that the ministers try to find a successor to Abdullah Al-Badry. The affable yet authoritative Libyan has held the post for five years to make him one of OPEC’s longest serving secretary generals — and he may be extended for another year as a way of easing tense jockeying among other members for the post.