What is OPEC’s oil output? Depends who you ask

OPEC's crude oil production numbers are not easy to come by. Ask OPEC itself, and you will now get two answers.




Since OPEC accounts for the bulk of the world's oil exports, the exact level of its production is vital information for traders, consumers and governments. The trouble is that finding that number is no easy task due to a dearth of timely official information.


On Thursday for the first time in more than a decade, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries issued a set of production figures as reported to its Vienna Secretariat by member-countries.



OPEC has for years used figures from secondary sources to monitor its output, a legacy of past disputes over members' output numbers. Thursday's report also included those figures.



The two sets showed some notable differences.

"It highlights the need for continued questioning on why these numbers are different," said Samuel Ciszuk, a consultant at KBC Energy Economics.

"I am surprised the OPEC Secretariat took this step as it will highlight uncomfortable truths for some of the member-countries."

The secondary sources, including consultants and industry media, put OPEC production in March at 31.31 million barrels per day (bpd), up from February and 1.31 million bpd above OPEC's own target, despite lower Iranian production.

March data from the member-countries is incomplete because Algeria and Ecuador have not given figures. For February, the figures from all the countries put OPEC output at 32.11 million bpd, exceeding the level from secondary sources by almost 1 million bpd.


The March numbers highlight contrasting views of the impact on Iran's production from tightening sanctions on Tehran. Iranian output slipped in March to 3.35 million bpd, according to the secondary sources.

But according to the OPEC figures, Iran reported its output was steady in March at 3.76 million bpd and has risen so far in 2012, effectively denying that supply has fallen.

The figures also show some long-standing output claims by OPEC members at different levels than estimated by the secondary sources.

For example, Venezuela told OPEC it pumped 2.82 million bpd in March, while the secondary sources estimated production at 2.38 million bpd.

Caracas has long argued that its output recovered from a strike at state oil firm PDVSA in late 2002 to 2003, a view questioned by some analysts.

According to the OPEC figures, Kuwait reported production was running above 3 million bpd, higher than many other estimates.

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