OPEC to provide U.S. Gulf Coast with 2 million extra barrels of oil

OPEC agreed Tuesday to make available 2 million extra barrels of oil a day in an effort to reassure markets edgy over supplies for the winter and storms battering refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said it would offer the extra oil for three months starting Oct. 1, but that its output ceiling would remain unchanged at 28 million barrels a day, in a bid to ease fears of insufficient supply and high prices ahead of the winter heating season, the AP reports.

"We want to show everybody that we have the ability to provide oil in the future," said OPEC President Sheik Ahmed Fahd Al Ahmed Al Sabah, who is also Kuwait's oil minister. He said the 2 million extra barrels represented the group's entire spare capacity.

"We hope that this will reflect positively on prices," Sheik Ahmed added. "We are very keen to help the market. We know there are geopolitical and weather crises."

Tuesday's offer of the extra crude came as Rita strengthened into a hurricane, threatening to inflict fresh damage on oil production facilities on the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Oil ministers decided against raising the output quota by another 500,000 barrels a day. But both options were seen as largely symbolic: The cartel already is pumping about 28.5 million barrels a day, and making extra crude available will not change the fact that the world's refineries can't keep up with demand.

OPEC's decision was overshadowed by Rita, which posed a fresh threat just weeks after Hurricane Katrina forced some U.S. refineries to shut down or scale back operations.

Oil prices jumped more than US$4 a barrel Monday _ the biggest one-day price jump ever _ but fell back Tuesday. Light, sweet crude for October delivery was trading at US$66.63 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down 76 cents.

The 2 million barrels would come from the spare capacity of OPEC members, although Saudi Arabia is the only country able to provide significant extra crude. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates also could contribute.

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