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Bloomberg: OPEC Oil Output Fell 0.6% in March, Survey Shows (Update1)

By Diane Munro and Mark Shenk

(Bloomberg) — Crude-oil production by members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries dropped 190,000 barrels a day in March, a Bloomberg News survey showed.

Output fell 0.6 percent to an average 29.88 million barrels a day, according to the survey of oil companies, producers and analysts. The output total includes Angola, which became the 12th OPEC member on Jan. 1.

The 10 members of OPEC with production quotas, all except Angola and Iraq, cut output by 200,000 barrels, or 0.8 percent, to 26.31 million barrels a day. That’s the lowest since April 2004. The members with targets have slashed production 5.5 percent during the past eight months, the survey shows.

“OPEC has been pretty successful in their strategy of pushing prices higher by holding back output,” said Frank Verrastro, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies energy program in Washington.

The 10 countries, in an effort to bolster prices, pledged to trim a total of 1.7 million barrels a day from production in two rounds of cuts, one that started Nov. 1 and another that took effect Feb. 1. Daily production is running about 465,000 barrels above the group’s informal target of 25.8 million barrels a day. OPEC agreed at a March 15 meeting in Vienna to leave its output targets unchanged.

Crude oil for May delivery fell $1.30, or 2 percent, to $64.94 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange today on speculation that the U.K. and Iran will negotiate to find a resolution to the dispute over Iran’s detention of 15 British naval personnel. Prices tumbled 36 percent to $49.90 a barrel on Jan. 18 from a record $78.40 on July 14.

Plunging Nigerian Output

Sabotage to oil facilities in Nigeria, OPEC’s sixth-biggest producer, accounted for 60 percent of the decline in production last month. Nigerian output fell by 120,000 barrels a day to an average 2.08 million barrels a day, the lowest since April 2006, the survey showed.

Nigeria produces low-sulfur, or sweet, crude oil, prized by refiners for the proportion of high-value gasoline it yields.

Militants caused a spill from the Nembe Creek pipeline on March 4, forcing operator, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, to shut 187,000 barrels a day of production. The company said the pipeline was repaired and production restored on March 30.

“We are missing the light, sweet barrels from Nigeria that refiners need to make gasoline,” Verrastro said. “A lot of the Saudi reduction consisted of the heavy barrels that there isn’t much demand for.”

Saudi Arabia’s Cuts

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest producer and the world’s top oil exporter, cut output 50,000 barrels to 8.5 million barrels a day in March, the second-biggest decline of any member, the survey showed. Saudi production last month was the lowest since April 2004. Saudi Arabia has reduced output of heavy, sour crude- oil grades that many refineries are unable to process.

Iran, the second-biggest OPEC producer, pumped an average 3.8 million barrels a day last month, down 20,000 barrels a day from February. This was in part a result of lower demand for sour, or high-sulfur, crude-oil grades.

Iraqi output declined 10,000 barrels to 2 million barrels a day. Exports averaged 1.56 million barrels a day in March, down 10,000 barrels a day from February. Exports from the two Persian Gulf ports, Basrah and Khor al Amaya, averaged 1.552 million barrels a day in March. Iraq also exported 8,000 barrels a day over land to Syria.

There were no exports from the country’s northern export route that ends at Turkey’s Ceyhan export terminal on the Mediterranean Sea because of attacks on pipelines.

Angola increased output by 20,000 barrels a day to 1.57 million barrels a day in March. Production at the offshore Dalia field started up last December and is now running slightly higher than 200,000 barrels a day. The field is expected to reach peak oil production of 240,000 barrels within the next few months.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Shenk and Diane Munro in New York at [email protected] .

3 April 2007

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