Kuwait Says OPEC Holding Informal Talks on Raising Oil Output

By Adam Schreck | March 8, 2011 | 7:00 AM EST

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Kuwait's oil minister said Tuesday that OPEC members are in informal talks about raising oil output, but have yet to make any decisions about adjusting supply.

The 12-nation Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has so far held its official output quotas unchanged, even as massive protests across the oil rich Middle East have pushed global oil prices to their highest levels since late 2008. An uprising in OPEC member Libya has stoked supply concerns and the producer bloc is facing increasing pressure to pump more oil into the market to ease prices.

Some members of the group, which supplies roughly 35 percent of the world's oil, have begun talks about supply, Sheik Ahmed al-Abdullah al-Sabah told reporters outside Kuwait's parliament Tuesday.

"We are in consultation, but we have not decided which direction," he said, without providing details of the talks or where they might lead.

Kuwait is, for now, sticking to its previously agreed quota levels. "We didn't increase," al-Sabah said.

Oil prices hovered near $104 a barrel Tuesday, down from the nearly $107 a barrel struck the previous day, crude's highest level since Sept. 26, 2008.

OPEC is not scheduled to meet again formally until June 8 in Vienna.

The group has repeatedly said the spike in prices is fueled by market fear driven by speculative investors rather than a tangible shortage of supply.

Oil inventories in developed nations remain high, but the concerns have focused on the possibility that the unrest that has ravaged Libya will spread to other major producers, most notably Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, Qatar's energy minister said there is no shortage of production or supply on global markets.

"The stocks are at a healthy level for the consumer so there is no reason to worry," the minister, Mohammed bin Saleh al-Sada, was quoted as saying by the state-run Qatar News Agency.

But al-Sada added that OPEC is closely monitoring the situation and stands ready to act if needed.

"From what we know, a number of countries are happy to check the market if there is any shortage," he said.

Libya sits atop Africa's largest proven reserves of conventional crude, and produces about 1.5 million barrels per day. But the fighting between anti-government rebels and forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi has battered production, lowering output by more than half, according to many estimates.

Saudi Arabia, which has over 4 million barrels in spare production capacity, has been increasing its output to offset the Libya export slump.