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An OPEC flag sits on a table ahead of the 169th Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday, June 2, 2016. Saudi Arabia is ready to consider a surprise deal with fellow OPEC members, attempting to mend divisions that had grown so wide many dubbed the group as good as dead.

OPEC steadily adds back production as economy recovers

An OPEC flag sits on a table ahead of the 169th Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday, June 2, 2016. Saudi Arabia is ready to consider a surprise deal with fellow OPEC members, attempting to mend divisions that had grown so wide many dubbed the group as good as dead.

Members of the OPEC oil-producing cartel and allied countries led by Russia signed off Wednesday on gradually increasing production as the global economy and demand for fuel continue to recover from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The group, known as OPEC+, agreed at an online meeting to stick with earlier plans to add back 400,000 barrels per day from October 1. The cartel and its allies are gingerly restoring deep cuts made last year, when lockdowns and travel restrictions caused demand for fuel and prices to crater.

In this Friday March 6, 2020 file photo, people stand outside the headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, in Vienna, Austria. Members of the OPEC oil producing cartel and allied countries led by Russia (OPEC+) signed off Wednesday, September 1, 2021, on gradually increasing production as the global economy and demand for fuel continue to recover from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: AP/Ronald Zak, file)

Tracking prices

Prices fell ahead of the meeting but rose afterward to trade little changed on the day. Oil was off a bare 0.1 per cent at US$68.44 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while Brent crude, an international benchmark, traded down 0.2 per cent at US$71.47 per barrel. Prices have recovered from a slump to just above $62 for New York Mercantile Exchange crude on August 20.

The OPEC+ decision tracks with a plan forged in July to add back 400,000 barrels a day each month until last year’s cuts are restored next year. Led by its de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, OPEC+ has taken a step-by-step approach. The group has started meeting monthly to keep close watch on the market and production levels amid uncertainty about whether the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus will present further economic setbacks in different parts of the world.

In this March 6, 2020 file photo, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, minister of energy of Saudi Arabia, arrives for a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC (OPEC+) members at the organisation’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Led by its de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, OPEC agreed at an online meeting Wednesday, Spetember 1, to stick with earlier plans to add back 400,000 barrels per day from October 1. (Photo: AP/Ronald Zak)

Balancing supply and demand

Adding too much oil to the market could cause prices to slip, as they briefly did in August, while holding back production costs members money for their state budgets.

The Biden Administration has urged OPEC to increase production faster, saying that higher gasoline costs risk harming the ongoing global recovery.

The Biden Administration in the US has urged OPEC to increase production faster, saying that higher gasoline costs risk harming the ongoing global recovery. (File photo)

The average US price for a gallon of gas at the pump was US$3.17 on Wednesday, according to motoring association AAA. That compares to US$2.32 per gallon a year ago. The cost of crude oil accounts for about half the price of gasoline at the pump.

Analysts said gas prices might rise after refineries in the United States shut down during Hurricane Ida, but they so far have remained relatively steady.