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OPEC may keep production level and crude above $65

That's the unanimous view of 18 oil traders, brokers and analysts surveyed on Aug. 31, who predicted oil ministers will vote to keep quotas when they meet in Vienna. OPEC is the producer of 40% of the world's oil. Officials from Iran and Nigeria said in the past three weeks that OPEC members, apart from Iraq, should keep their target of 28 million barrels a day. The Sept. 11 meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries comes as high oil prices curb consumer spending from Australia to the US, prompting calls by politicians to reduce reliance on OPEC crude. Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria and Indonesia are all failing to produce as much oil as planned. „OPEC will look at the market, they'll be happy with what's going on,” said Leo Drollas, deputy executive director of the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies. „Prices are high and their revenues are soaring. They feel the prices aren't affecting the world economy so there's no need to change anything, including production quotas.” Output for the 10 members outside of Iraq was 27.9 million barrels a day in August, below the planned 28 million a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Members last surpassed the target in February. Oil in New York touched a record $78.40 a barrel on July 14, fueled by concern that fighting in Lebanon between Israeli and Hezbollah forces would spread in the Middle East, the source of 30% of the world's crude. Supply disruptions in Nigeria because of militant attacks and a dispute with Iran over its nuclear program also bolstered prices.

„OPEC still has the capacity to influence the market, but not on all occasions,” said Sadek Boussena, a former OPEC president who is now an adviser to French bank Societe Generale SA. „The unpredictable factor is geopolitics. We can't predict what can happen in Nigeria, Iraq and Iran.” Oil has since slipped about 14% as concern eased about disruptions from Iran, the world's fourth-biggest producer, and as the fighting in Lebanon ended. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sept. 6 said the nation won't back a military strike on Iran. A benign Atlantic hurricane season has damped concern that oil and natural gas from platforms in the Gulf of Mexico will be disrupted. By this time last year, six hurricanes had developed, including Katrina, which shuttered most oil and gas production in the Gulf.

Algeria pumped 54% more than its quota in August, while Indonesia was 41% below, according to the data compiled by Bloomberg. „The quotas don't really reflect the potential of various countries,” Drollas said. Increasing demand in countries such as China has also been driving prices, while spare production capacity has declined because OPEC isn't investing enough, Drollas said. Traders are divided on whether Iran would curb oil exports. United Nations members including the US are considering sanctions in an effort to contain the country's nuclear ambitions. Iran, which last week defied a UN demand to halt uranium enrichment, said Sept. 6 it's ready to retaliate against any attack. Even a „symbolic cut” would push prices up, Norrish said. A two-day energy seminar in Vienna will follow the formal OPEC meeting, with ministers and executives from companies including Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp. and Saudi Aramco scheduled to attend. (Bloomberg)