Oil prices rise sharply as OPEC reaches agreement to limit output


GENEVA -- After five days of talks, OPEC announced yesterday that its 12 members had agreed to individual quotas to limit production over the next six months to 24.5 million barrels a day.

Kuwait and Iran secured significant increases in their individual shares of OPEC's output, while Saudi Arabia, the world's largest producer and exporter of oil, agreed to freeze its production at current levels until April.

Experts called the agreement a credible attempt by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to limit production and increase the price of oil, which has fallen by 20 percent since early summer.

News of the agreement sent oil prices sharply higher. On the Commodity Exchange in New York, crude for November delivery settled up 71 cents, to $18.67 a barrel.

The agreement managed to co-opt several countries' demands for larger production while securing a pledge by Saudi Arabia to keep its production at its current level of 8 million barrels a day.

The accord gives Kuwait a quota of 2 million barrels a day, 400,000 barrels more than it is now allowed. Although Kuwait was exceeding its quota, its agreement to rejoin the quota system bolsters OPEC's chances of making this accord stick. Kuwait dropped its request for a ceiling of 2.2 million barrels.

The main reason for believing that the accord will stick is the fact that 24.5 million barrels a day are about all the oil that OPEC can pump now -- except for Saudi Arabia, which could boost its output by at least 1 million barrels a day.

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