Leading OPEC officials and ministers yesterday declined to commit to pumping more oil before their next meeting in December, even if crude stays above the $28 top end of their targeted price range.
With oil hitting a 19-month high, attention focused on an OPEC formula that stipulates output changes of 500,000 barrels a day when the price of a basket of its crudes moves beyond the group's $22-28 a barrel target range for 20 consecutive days.
US light crude was trading up 57 cents at $30.41 a barrel today as fears rose of a US assault on Iraq. That values the basket of mostly heavy crudes near $28.
Ministers said that while they would be prepared normally to use the 20-day trigger, circumstances now were not normal, with prices inflated by war fever rather than a shortage of oil.
"Under normal circumstances yes, but I don't know whether these circumstances are normal," said OPEC President Rilwanu Lukman.
"We have a meeting in December to discuss that," said OPEC Secretary-General Alvaro Silva.
The comments echoed those by fellow OPEC ministers since their decision last Thursday to leave output unchanged for the fourth quarter and meet again on December 12. Notably, powerful Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said he was only prepared to act to keep supplies sufficient, not to contain price speculation. "This price is not related to a shortage of oil," said Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah. "The price is a political price driven by speculators."