Saudi Arabia and other OPEC oil producers are discussing an output increase, the group’s delegates said, a move that could help heal a rift with the Biden administration and keep energy flowing amid new attempts to blunt Russia’s oil industry over the Ukraine war.
A production increase of up to 500,000 barrels a day is now under discussion for OPEC+’s Dec. 4 meeting, delegates said. The move would come a day before the European Union is set to impose an embargo on Russian oil and the Group of Seven wealthy nations’ plans to launch a price cap on Russian crude sales, potentially taking Moscow’s petroleum supplies off the market.
After The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations reported on the discussions Monday, Saudi energy minister Prince
Abdulaziz bin Salman
denied the reports and said a production cut was possible instead.
Any output increase would mark a partial reversal of a controversial decision last month to cut production by 2 million barrels a day at the most recent meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their Russia-led allies, a group known collectively as OPEC+.
The White House said the production cut undermined global efforts to blunt Russia’s war in Ukraine. It was also viewed as a political slap in the face to President Biden, coming before the congressional midterm elections at a time of high inflation. Saudi-U.S. relations have hit a low point over oil-production disagreements this year, though U.S. officials had said they were looking to the Dec. 4 OPEC+ meeting with some hope.
Talk of a production increase has emerged after the Biden administration told a federal court judge that Saudi Crown
bin Salman should have sovereign immunity from a U.S. federal lawsuit related to the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The immunity decision amounted to a concession to Prince Mohammed, bolstering his standing as the kingdom’s de facto ruler after the Biden administration tried for months to isolate him.
It is an unusual time for OPEC+ to consider a production increase, with global oil prices falling more than 10% since the first week of November. Oil prices fell 5% after reports of the increase and then pared those losses after
‘s comments. Brent crude traded at $86.25 on Monday afternoon, down more than 1%.
Ostensibly, delegates said, a production increase would be in response to expectations that oil consumption will rise in the winter, as it normally does. Oil demand is expected to increase by 1.69 million barrels a day to 101.3 million barrels a day in the first quarter next year, compared with the average level in 2022.
OPEC and its allies say they have been carefully studying the G-7 plans to impose a price cap on Russian oil, conceding privately that they see any such move by crude consumers to control the market as a threat. Russia has said it wouldn’t sell oil to any country participating in the price cap, potentially resulting in another effective production cut from Moscow—one of the world’s top three oil producers.
Prince Abdulaziz said last month that the kingdom would “supply oil to all who need it from us,” speaking in response to a question about looming Russian oil shortages. OPEC members have signaled to Western countries that they would step up if Russian output fell.
Talk of a production increase sets up a potential fight between OPEC+’s two heavyweight producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia. The countries have an oil-production alliance that industry officials in both nations have described as a marriage of convenience, and they have clashed before.
Saudi officials have been adamant that their decision to cut production last month wasn’t designed to support Russia’s war in Ukraine. Instead, they say, the cut was intended to get ahead of flagging demand for oil caused by a global economy showing signs of slowing down.
Raising oil production ahead of the price cap and EU embargo could give the Saudis another argument that they are acting in their own interests, and not Russia’s.
Another factor driving discussion around raising output: Two big OPEC members, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, want to pump more oil, OPEC delegates said. Both countries are pushing the oil-producing group to allow them a higher daily-production ceiling, delegates said, a change that, if granted, could account for more oil production.
Under OPEC’s complex quota system, the U.A.E. is obligated to hold its crude production to no more than 3.018 million barrels a day. State-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., which produces most of the U.A.E.’s output, has an output capacity of 4.45 million barrels a day and plans to accelerate its goal of reaching 5 million barrels of daily capacity by 2025. Abu Dhabi has long pushed for a higher OPEC quota, only to be rebuffed by the Saudis, OPEC delegates have said.
Last year, the country was the lone holdout on a deal to boost crude output in OPEC+, saying it would agree only if allowed to boost its own production much more than other members. The public standoff inside OPEC was the first sign that the U.A.E. has adopted a new strategy: Sell as much crude as possible before demand dries up.
Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani said that his country, which is the second-largest crude oil producer in OPEC, would discuss a new quota with other members at its next meeting.
A discussion of OPEC production quotas has been on hold for months. The idea faces opposition from some OPEC nations because many can’t meet their current targets and watching other countries run up their quotas could cause political problems domestically, delegates said.
—Michael Amon contributed to this article.
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