Saudi Arabia Pledges OPEC Supplies to Replace Lost Libya Oil

Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations including those in West Africa are willing and able to replace any lost Libyan oil as soon as companies ask for it, including crude of the same quality, a Saudi Arabian oil official said.

There is no reason for oil prices to rise because Saudi Arabia and OPEC won’t allow shortages to exist, the official said by telephone today, declining to be identified by name. Some West African oil that goes to Asian markets can be redirected to Europe, and extra Saudi oil can go to Asia to replace Nigerian or Angolan supplies, the Saudi official said.

Exporters are under pressure to ensure adequate supplies to the market after violence in Libya, Africa’s third-largest producer, sent Brent crude futures in London as high as $119.79 a barrel earlier today, the highest since August 2008. Brent retreated below $114 after the Saudi official’s comments were reported. Several hours later, the International Energy Agency said it stands ready to release emergency stockpiles if needed.

“The market is looking at the Saudi and IEA statements as declarations of intent, which isn’t the same as actually putting physical production on the market,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity-markets strategy at BNP Paribas SA in London. “The market is now focusing on the potential of lost barrels, not only in Libya but Algeria, and the possibility of protests elsewhere that could easily lead to tightening supply.”

OPEC’s Responsibility

As OPEC’s statute indicates, it has a responsibility to ensure that the market is well balanced and that there is no shortage of supply, the Saudi official said by phone.

Saudi crude can flow through the kingdom’s East-West pipeline, reducing the time it takes to reach European refineries, the official said. The line stretches from the kingdom’s oil-rich eastern province to the Red Sea port of Yanbu and can transport as much as 5 million barrels a day for export to European markets, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration website.

Libya’s benchmark Es Sider grade has a low density and low sulfur content, making it similar to North Sea Brent crude and some African crudes that are favored by refiners because they yield more higher-value products such as gasoline.

IEA Stands ‘Ready’

World oil supply has been cut by 500,000 to 750,000 barrels a day following the crisis in North Africa, the International Energy Agency said in a statement today, adding that it is ready to release emergency stockpiles if needed.

“The IEA is also in close contact with OPEC and major producer countries and the Governing Board takes note of the reports regarding their willingness to draw on their excess capacity to ensure additional supplies if required,” it said.

The IEA, a Paris-based adviser to 28 consuming nations, said that its member governments have enough emergency inventories to cover 145 days worth of imports.

Libya pumped 1.6 million barrels a day of crude last month, according to Bloomberg estimates. Barclay Capital estimates as much as 1 million barrels a day has been halted, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. puts the disruption at 500,000 barrels a day.

Popular uprisings have rocked the Arab world, ignited by the ouster of Tunisia’s president last month and fanned by the Feb. 11 fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Protests in Algeria, which produces 1.25 million barrels a day of oil, led to the Feb. 22 announcement of an end to the state of emergency there. Turmoil has spread to Bahrain, Iran and Yemen.

Spare Capacity

OPEC collectively pumped 29.4 million barrels a day last month, according to Bloomberg estimates, and has about 5 million barrels a day of spare capacity, according to the International Energy Agency. Most of the unused capacity is in Saudi Arabia, the organization’s biggest producer.

Eni SpA, the largest foreign oil producer in Libya, and other companies including Total SA and OMV AG said they were curtailing production and evacuating staff after clashes between troops and anti-government protesters in the past few days.

Eni’s oil and gas production in Libya has been halved to 120,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day, and the company may stop producing there altogether because storage tanks at export terminals are filling up, two people will knowledge of the situation said. The flow of gas to Italy from Eni’s Libyan fields halted this week.

Unilateral Decision

Saudi Arabia has previously announced unilateral decisions to boost production without seeking OPEC’s approval first, including in 2008 when prices were rallying toward a record.

On May 16 of that year, the kingdom said it would add 300,000 barrels a day from the following month, taking output to 9.45 million barrels a day, and on June 19 it said it would add a further 200,000 barrels a day. At an emergency oil summit convened by King Abdullah in Jeddah on June 22, 2008, the country said it could raise output capacity by an additional 2.5 million barrels a day with new giant fields if needed, lifting its total capacity to 15 million barrels a day.

Oil reached $147.27 a barrel in July 2008 before retreating to less than $40 a barrel at the end of that year.

OPEC’s 12 members are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. The group is due to hold its next formal meeting in early June. Iran, which holds OPEC’s presidency this year, said earlier this week that oil supplies are sufficient.

In 2005, the IEA drew on emergency oil supplies in its member countries, including European gasoline, after Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast.

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