WRAPUP 2-Azerbaijan, not Russia, offers OPEC oil cut
Reuters - Thursday, December 18
* Azerbaijan offers output cut amid production problems * Russia pledges no output cuts, says exports may fall * Russia says may become OPEC member in the future * Russian Q1 export programme shows 4.5 pct drop in volume
By Katya Golubkova and Gleb Gorodyankin
ORAN/MOSCOW, Dec 17 - Azerbaijan, facing oil production problems, on Wednesday became the only non-OPEC nation to offer output cuts, while Russia refrained from making firm pledges despite previous declarations that it could.
Russia, the world's No.2 oil exporter, had been expected to try and repackage its natural output decline as help to OPEC, even though Moscow's oil export plans for the first quarter showed a further drop in volume to a five year low.
Azeri Energy Minister Natik Aliyev told reporters on the sidelines of an OPEC meeting in the Algerian town of Oran the country was ready to cut output by 300,000 barrels per day to 540,000 bpd, which will be its lowest output level in two years.
"We have production capacity of 1 million bpd, but currently output is reduced to 840,000 bpd and we are ready to cut further to 540,000 bpd and sustain this production for several months," Aliyev said.
Most of Azeri oil output is controlled by a BP-led <BP.L> consortium, which reduced production in the past months due to technical problems at an offshore platform in the Caspian Sea.
Traders said last week BP would pump 568,000 bpd of Azeri crude to world markets in January, much less than expected, as they said they suspected production was slow to recover.
Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told Reuters on Tuesday producers outside OPEC could cut 500,000-600,000 bpd along with any curbs agreed by OPEC at its meeting on Wednesday.
Top non-OPEC producers Russia, Mexico and Norway signed up to production curbs with OPEC in 2002 to help shore up oil prices after they fell below $20.
But after Norway and Mexico said they had no plans to join production cuts this time, oil markets focused on Russia, which like many OPEC members badly needs a price of above $70 per barrel to protect its economy, currency and social stability.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said last week Moscow was not ruling out joining production cuts and even the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Nations.
Moscow also sent the highest-ranked delegation ever to an OPEC meeting this week, chaired by Russia's top energy official Igor Sechin and the heads of all five top national oil firms.
Sechin told OPEC delegates on Wednesday Russian oil firms could extend oil export cuts in 2009 after having already cut deliveries by 350,000 bpd in November.
RUSSIAN EXPORT ALREADY DOWN
Russian exports fell to 3.7 million bpd, the lowest level since 2004, after the government kept a very high oil export duty which made exports loss-making and encouraged companies to refine more at home and focus on exports of refined products.
But Sechin said nothing about oil output cuts, only warning an extended period of oil price weakness would reduce capex.
"If current prices on the global oil market prevail, Russian oil firms will be forced to cut the volumes of supplies next year by 16 million tonnes ...," he said in a speech to delegates, the text of which was obtained by Reuters.
" also cut investments which may in the near future lead to a much sharper decline in production."
Russian output is poised to decline by around 1 percent this year, the first time in a decade during which output rose by over 60 percent to approach the landmark 10 million bpd level.
"Russia is not realistically able to control oil output. Russia will see natural deterioration of about 300,000-400,000 bpd over the next year. This number is strangely in line with the cuts it has been asked to implement," said James Beadle at Pilgrim Asset Management.
As to confirm this view, Russia's oil export schedule for the first quarter showed a planned 4.5 percent drop by 160,000 bpd from the fourth quarter. [ID:nLH5477]
Sechin also said Moscow wanted to become a permanent OPEC observer but would not seek membership status immediately.
"The forms of cooperation should be different - from the status of observer to membership as well as joint work on exchanges, creation of new indicators and maybe even an oil bank, which would ensure reliability of payments," he said.
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