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Trio vows to pump more oil - but can't

Lagos - Leading oil exporters outside the Middle East have pledged to boost production to offset soaring oil prices, but it could be years before Russia, Nigeria and Mexico manage to open their taps.

In all three countries, building projects to clear pipeline bottlenecks or to boost production capacity are still works in progress.

In Nigeria, intermittent attacks on installations in the oil-rich Niger Delta persistently limit drilling, forcing multinationals to abandon wells.

"On a longer term, at least one or two years, I think things will change. A big increase in production is possible," said local energy consultant Pieter Louw.

"But in the short term, it is better to keep your little diesel car and do not expect big changes."

US energy secretary Spencer Abraham insisted the pledges "should have a significant impact on world energy prices".

But the promises seem a long way from being met - at least in ways the world would notice.

Mexico promised to do its part but only by next year, when it had finished construction projects to boost capacity.

Nigeria promised an extra 300 000 barrels per day (bpd) within 40 days, if the market wanted it. But analysts are sceptical whether Africa's largest oil producer can go much beyond that modest target.

A member of the Opec oil producers' cartel, Nigeria is already nearly 300 000 bpd over its export quota of 1.93 million bpd.

Armed attacks on installations in the delta have cut about 7 percent of national production in losses to Royal Dutch/Shell and Chevron Texaco alone.

Nigeria might be able to boost production to as much as 3 million bpd in a year's time but at the risk of aggravating violence, said economist Bismarck Rewane.

In Russia the problems are peaceful ones: pipelines and port facilities. Exports through the state-owned Transneft pipeline are already near maximum capacity and with Russian projects far from completion, experts agree any significant export boost is at least three years away.

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