• Daily production climbed to highest since end of November 2011
  • Exports rose more than 40% from March to 2 million barrels/day

Iranian crude production rose to levels last seen before sanctions were imposed more than four years ago, helping to drive OPEC output to the highest in almost eight years, according to the International Energy Agency.

Iran pumped 3.56 million barrels a day last month, a rate last reached in November 2011 before trade restrictions were imposed over the country’s nuclear program, the IEA said Thursday. Exports soared more than 40 percent to 2 million barrels a day -- near pre-sanctions levels -- as the nation worked to regain lost market share.

While Iraq and the United Arab Emirates also boosted output, Iran’s addition of 300,000 barrels a day was the key contributor to OPEC’s production gain to 32.76 million barrels a day, the highest since August 2008. Iran’s refusal to consider capping volumes before reaching pre-sanctions levels led arch rival Saudi Arabia to throw out a proposed oil-freeze deal in Doha last month.

Iran’s exports jumped by around 600,000 barrels from March, “with China buying big and Europe loading substantially more,” the IEA said in its monthly report. Some of the increase “may have been due to loadings that spilled over from March” and it’s unclear how much is being drawn from storage on Kharg Island, Iran’s biggest export terminal, the agency said.

Leading Buyers

China was the biggest buyer of Iranian crude in April, lifting more than 800,000 barrels a day, a 57 percent gain from March, according to the IEA. Purchasers in Europe loaded roughly 500,000 barrels a day, more than double the previous month, with Total SA and Tupras Turkiye Petrol Rafinerileri AS leading the orders. Clients in Europe bought about 600,000 barrels a day before sanctions were tightened in mid-2012.

Iran may post further gains in output yet its potential for substantial increases may be limited by “near-term production capacity constraints,” the IEA said. The country was the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ second-biggest producer before sanctions were stepped up.

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