OPEC: global tensions keeping crude prices high

Global tensions have pushed crude prices up as much as 20 percent over what demand would suggest, OPEC's acting secretary general said Friday. "We feel that the governments of both the producing and consuming countries must do more to ease these political tensions. It is clear that prices will not fall until these anxieties abate," said Mohammed Barkindo, of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The anxiety in the market is so great that Iran 's OPEC governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili said the cartel was unlikely to cut production when it meets June 1, despite an apparent oil glut. Barkindo and Ardebili were among those attending a joint OPEC-International Energy Agency workshop on demand at a time when crude oil prices are at near-record levels of about US$70 per barrel.

In opening the largely closed-door workshop in the Norwegian capital of Oslo , Barkindo said "there is absolutely no supply shortage." He said OPEC has increased production by 4.5 million barrels per day since 2002, and that this year global oil stocks are at five-year highs. "The market determines the oil price, and if the fundamentals are in balance, then one has to look elsewhere as to why prices are being inflated," he said.

"Remove the impediment of geopolitical concerns, tensions, and the resulting speculation and the oil price will find its rightful place in the market," said Barkindo. Although he did not go into detail, global issues that cause jitters in the oil market include fears of terrorist or militant attacks on the oil industry in places like Iraq and Nigeria .

There is also worry about a possible military intervention by the United States or United Nations actions against Iran over its nuclear program. Speaking to reporters on the margins of the meeting, the Iranian OPEC governor, Ardebili, said his country would continue to supply oil, despite sanction threats.

Ardebili also said there appeared to be an excess supply of 1.2 million barrels of oil per day for the April through June period. "The fundamentals call for a cut," he said, referring to the basic structure of the market. But he predicted that OPEC won't cut output when it meets in Caracas because it wants to reassure the market.

Barkindo said prices were being driven by "geopolitics and the accompanying hype and speculation." He said those factors were adding an estimated US$15 to the price of each barrel of oil. The acting secretary general also said that, although the world demand for oil is bound to grow, it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict and respond to demand.

Developing oil fields and building such facilities as refineries require such huge investments that OPEC members could reconsider projects if demand growth appeared uncertain, he said. Factors contributing to uncertainty could include programs by the U.S. and in Europe to reduce dependency on Middle Eastern oil, as well as increase fuel efficiency to slow demand growth.

"There are a growing number of obstacles to accurately assessing global oil demand in the short, medium and long term, and we need to look at how these obstacles can be overcome," he said. Barkindo said they must study consumption patterns in areas of growing demand, and more and broader dialogue between oil producers, consumers and others.

"Determining predictability of supply and demand is essential for taking the industry forward in an orderly and structured fashion," he said. The Fourth OPEC-IEA Workshop was hosted by the Oil Ministry of Norway, the world's third largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia . It will provide input for the annual IEA report "World Energy Outlook." Apart from the opening remarks, the Oslo workshop, which focused on demand, was closed to the media. Previous workshops in the series have looked at supply, investment, and energy outlooks, reports the AP.