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Qatar to pull out of Saudi-dominated Opec

December 04, 2018

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A file photo taken on Feb 6, 2017 shows the Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar’s principal site for production of LNG and gas-to-liquid, administrated by Qatar Petroleum, some 80-km north of the capital Doha.—AFP
A file photo taken on Feb 6, 2017 shows the Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar’s principal site for production of LNG and gas-to-liquid, administrated by Qatar Petroleum, some 80-km north of the capital Doha.—AFP

DUBAI: The tiny, energy-rich Arab nation of Qatar announced Monday it will withdraw from Opec in January, a rebuke of the Saudi-dominated cartel as the kingdom’s boycott of Doha continues unabated and a crucial meeting of the group looms this week.

The surprise declaration could make Qatar the first Middle East nation to leave the cartel since its founding in 1960.

It again injects politics into an organisation that long has insisted it is nonpartisan, stealing headlines just as the cartel deliberates production cuts to halt a slide in global crude oil prices.

Although contributing only a fraction of Opec’s overall production, Qatar’s decision also throws into question the viability of the cartel. Once muscular enough to grind America to a halt with its 1970s oil embargo, Opec needed non-members like Russia to push through a production cut in 2016 after prices crashed below $30 a barrel. That’s unlikely to change, especially as the United States regained the throne of the world’s top oil producer. “The Qatari leadership is no longer interested in remaining an active part of an organisation that largely shuns it,” the Eurasia Group said in an analysis.

“The two individuals that markets focus on are Saudi Arabia’s energy tsar Khalid al-Falih and Russia’s Alexander Novak. Qatari energy officials are not consulted, at the very least not sufficiently, and its leaders are no longer an active part of the organisation’s machine.” The decision was announced by Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, Qatar’s minister of state for energy affairs. He said Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, planned to increase its exports from 77 million tonnes of gas per year to 110m tonnes. He also said Qatar wants to raise its oil production.

“In light of such efforts and plans, and in our pursuit to strengthen Qatar’s position as a reliable and trustworthy energy supplier across the globe, we had to take steps to review Qatar’s role and contributions on the international energy scene,” al-Kaabi said.

There was no comment from Vienna-based Opec, which meets Thursday to discuss possible production cuts. In November, al-Falih said Opec and allied oil-producing countries will probably need to cut crude supplies, perhaps by as much as 1mbpd, to rebalance the market.

Qatar produces only about 600,000 barrels of crude oil a day, making it Opec’s 11th biggest producer. The loss of production, under 2 per cent of overall Opec supply a day, won’t greatly affect the cartel’s position in the market.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018

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