OPEC’s oil production plunges to four-year low in March as Saudis slash output

Oil supplies from OPEC sank by half a million barrels in March, hitting a four-year low, as Saudi Arabia continues to slash output and Venezuela‘s production plunged amid ongoing economic crisis.

The producer group, along with Russia and other non-member countries, is trying to keep 1.2 million barrels per day off the market through June, following a collapse in crude prices at the end of 2018. The production curbs by the so-called OPEC+ alliance aim to drain oversupply from the oil market and boost prices.

OPEC’s output fell by 534,000 bpd in March to 30.02 million bpd, according to independent sources cited by the group in its monthly report. This year, supply from the group has fallen by more than 1.5 million bpd, helping to drive international Brent crude prices 30 percent higher.

The headline OPEC output was the lowest since February 2015, when the group pumped 29.97 million bpd, though its membership has changed several times since then.

Much of the March decline is due to Saudi Arabia’s will to aggressively cut production. In March, the Saudis took another 324,000 bpd off the market, bringing output to just under 9.8 million bpd and delivering on Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih’s vow to pump well below 10 million bpd.

Saudi output has now fallen by about 1.3 million bpd from its all-time high at 11.1 million bpd in November, when the kingdom surged production to offset U.S. energy sanctions on OPEC-member Iran.

The terminal decline in Venezuelan output continues to help OPEC+ cut global oil supplies. Following a series of blackouts that disrupted oil operations, Venezuela’s production plunged by 289,000 bpd to 732,000 bpd in March.

Venezuela, already mired in a years-long economic crisis, is now grappling with U.S. sanctions against state-owned oil giant PDVSA and a political standoff between socialist leader Nicolas Maduro and opposition figure Juan Guaido.

The next biggest decline came from Iraq, which cut production by 126,000 bpd in March to just over 4.5 million barrels. That brought OPEC’s second largest producer roughly in line with its production cap for the first time this year.

The declines were offset by Libya, where output surged by 196,000 bpd to nearly 1.1 million bpd. The nation’s production often fluctuates due to unrest, and the its supplies are now in question after a Libyan general sent his troops into Tripoli, the seat of a rival United Nations-recognized government.

OPEC+ alliance members will meet in June to discuss oil policy. Saudi Arabia is leaning towards carrying over the production cuts into the second half of 2019, while Russia refuses to commit to an extension.

This year’s oil price rally has prompted President Donald Trump to call on OPEC to hike output and tamp down prices. The producer group has so far ignored Trump’s warnings on Twitter.

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