Venezuelan oil production in 'free fall': IEA's Birol

FILE PHOTO: Oil pumps are seen in Lake Maracaibo, in Lagunillas, Ciudad Ojeda, in the state of Zulia, Venezuela, March 20, 2015.REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia/File Photo

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Venezuela’s crude production was in “free-fall” and could soon fall below 1 million barrels per day (bpd), the International Energy Agency’s Executive Director Fatih Birol said on Tuesday.

Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the Africa Oil Week conference in Cape Town, Birol also said that he hoped oil prices would not rise above current levels this year because it would be bad for the “fragile” global economy.

“Venezuela production is in a free-fall and we expect that soon it may go to even below 1 million barrels per day,” he said.

OPEC member Venezuela last year produced more than 2 million bpd, but a deep economic and social crisis has seen output plummet as millions flee the South American country.

Asked whether the current oil price of around $73 per barrel was sustainable, Birol said he hoped there would be no further increases this year.

“I hope that prices do not rise again because this will not really be good news for the global economy which is very fragile,” he said, as U.S. sanctions against Iran and Washington’s trade spat with China add to price volatility.

Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Ed Stoddard; Editing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Louise Heavens