ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - The United States urged OPEC yesterday to boost output, but oil ministers appeared undecided on the eve of their key meeting that could help determine whether consumers worldwide will pay more or less for gasoline and heating oil.
When oil markets were reaching for the $100 mark a little more than a week ago, traders were betting that the oil ministers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would opt to increase production when they meet here today.
But now oil prices have come down from the record $98.18 a barrel of Nov. 23. While they remain more than 50 percent above levels a year ago, the recent downturn has left OPEC torn between the conflicting needs of keeping revenue high and presenting an image as a responsible regulator of unstable markets.
U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman yesterday urged OPEC to opt for the latter. He told reporters in Washington that he had raised the issue of low oil inventories in recent discussions with OPEC oil ministers. Asked whether scarce supplies support the need to boost output, he replied "yes."
But the oil group appeared undecided.
In the last few days, ministers from Iraq, Indonesia, Nigeria and Kuwait said they were open to production increases, and unnamed OPEC officials told Dow Jones Newswires that an increase of up to 750,000 barrels a day could be in the making.
But ministers from Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar also have recently suggested that there is no need to boost supplies.
OPEC President Mohamed al-Hamli, who is also oil minister for the United Arab Emirates, yesterday reaffirmed his view that there is ample oil supply in global markets. He told the United Arab Emirates news agency WAM that "fluctuation of prices is a result of several factors that don't have anything to do with market fundamentals." Instead, he was quoted as blaming speculators and geopolitical tensions.