OPEC oil output hits lowest since January: survey

LONDON Fri Sep 28, 2012 1:20pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - OPEC crude oil output has fallen in September because of reduced exports from Angola and Nigeria, a Reuters survey showed on Friday, and as Iranian output slipped back to its lowest in more than two decades.

The drop in output from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries may worry consumer countries, already concerned that oil prices near $112 a barrel for Brent crude are weighing on economic growth.

Supply from the 12-member OPEC has averaged 31.09 million barrels per day (bpd), down from 31.53 million bpd in August, the Reuters survey of sources at oil companies, OPEC officials and analysts found.

The total is the lowest since January 2012 when the group pumped 30.95 million bpd, according to Reuters surveys. Still, production remains just over 1 million bpd more than OPEC's output target of 30 million bpd.

"It's mostly Nigeria and Angola, just loading variations," said Paul Tossetti, senior energy adviser at PFC Energy. "I think Iranian output has bottomed out, but I would guess it's going to fall steadily due to lack of investment and sanctions."

The two African producers accounted for the bulk of the drop in output, after they both ramped up shipments in August. Top African producer Nigeria's exports were scheduled to fall to an 11-month low in September.

Iranian supply fell by 50,000 bpd to 2.80 million bpd, matching July's rate, the survey found. Output in July was Iran's lowest since 1988, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Output from Iran is down sharply this year due to U.S. and European sanctions on the country over its nuclear program. The embargo bars EU insurance firms from covering Iran's exports, hindering imports by some non-EU buyers.

Some sources expected a small recovery in Iranian exports this month as some customers, including South Korea, returned. But some buyers say Iran's tanker fleet has been struggling to meet delivery schedules, slowing down exports.

"There is clearly a problem with the tanker issues and over the longer term it's probably going to get more and more difficult," said one industry source, who estimated Iranian exports in September were on a par with August's.

SUPPLY AMPLE, SAYS OPEC

Consumer countries are worried about rising oil prices and have urged producers to do more. The chief economist of the International Energy agency, which advises industrialized countries, warned earlier this month prices risked pushing the global economy back into recession.

OPEC says it is pumping enough. OPEC Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri said on a visit to Berlin on Friday markets were sufficiently supplied.

Top exporter Saudi Arabia's output has edged up to 10 million bpd in September, near the highest rate in decades, the survey found.

Sources in the survey estimated Saudi exports had risen, largely because less crude was needed domestically to generate power for air conditioning.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said on September 10 the country was concerned about high oil prices and will take steps to moderate them. But buyers of Saudi crude said they were not hearing of significant extra volumes for sale.

Among other countries with higher output, Libya's production has risen 40,000 bpd although sources in the survey pegged output at 1.46 million bpd on average in September, short of the 1.6 million bpd Libya said on September 24 it was pumping.

Iraq nudged up production to 3.06 million bpd, the survey found. Higher exports of Kirkuk crude from northern Iraq offset a decline in shipments from the south.

Iran this year has slipped from its traditional position as OPEC's second-largest producer to rank third behind Iraq due to the impact of sanctions and Iraq's efforts to expand supplies.

(Additional reporting by Gareth Jones; editing by Peg Mackey and Jason Neely)

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