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OPEC oil output drops gradually in January

BEIJING, Feb. 4 -- Crude-oil production by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) fell 1.2 per cent in January, led by declines in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, a Bloomberg survey showed.

Daily production by all 11 OPEC members fell 370,000 barrels to an average of 29.44 million barrels, according to the survey of oil companies, producers and analysts. It was the third straight monthly decline after six months of gains.

OPEC pumped 30.54 million barrels a day in October, the highest since December 1979, based on figures kept by the US Energy Department. The 10 OPEC members with quotas, all except Iraq, agreed on December 10 to cut output by about 1 million barrels of oil a day, starting January 1, in an effort to keep prices from falling as a surplus developed.

"We can expect to continue seeing OPEC production decline as they try to stabilize prices," said Carl Larry, an associate director of energy futures at Barclays Capital Inc in New York. "As time passes, it will be reflected in US import levels."

Iraqi output fell 90,000 barrels, or 4.7 per cent, to 1.82 million barrels a day in January. Iraq is the only OPEC member without a production quota.

The Persian Gulf nation produced 2.48 million barrels a day in February 2003, before the US-led invasion. The country's production and exports have been limited because of sabotage to pipelines and other oil facilities.

Iraqi exports

Iraqi exports averaged 1.4 million barrels a day in January, down from 1.5 million the prior month. Shipments from northern Iraq have been halted for a month following an attack on a pipeline to Turkey.

Sabotage to pumping equipment caused power cuts, reducing shipments from the Persian Gulf, where rough seas also prevented tankers from docking and loading at the Basra oil terminal, Iraq's largest.

The other 10 OPEC members reduced daily output by 230,000 barrels, or 0.8 per cent, to 27.62 million barrels. The 10 exceeded their self-assigned quotas by a combined 620,000 barrels a day last month.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top exporter, cut production by 200,000 barrels, or 2.1 per cent, to 9.13 million barrels a day, according to the survey. The Saudis said they would cut 500,000 barrels a day of crude oil output as part of the December OPEC accord.

Effective in January, Saudi production figures no longer include approximately 180,000 barrels a day in condensates, which are blended with crude oil.

Nigeria and Venezuela

Nigeria and Venezuela both increased production by 50,000 barrels a day last month. Oil companies in Nigeria were able to increase production after a rash of labour disputes. ChevronTexaco Corp, the second-largest US oil company, has about 140,000 barrels a day of production still shut in because of the recent unrest. Exxon Mobil Corp is the biggest US oil company.

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