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OPEC Secretary-General Abdalla Salem el-Badri says he doesn't expect demand for the cartel's oil or its production levels to change in the coming year, and he is urging member states not to be alarmed by oil's current low prices.

"Don't panic," el-Badri said Oct. 29 at an impromptu news conference in London, where he was attending a conference. "I am sure the market will balance itself."

The concern, if not the panic, already is present. The price of the global petroleum benchmark, Brent crude, plunged a little more than $87 a barrel the day he made those comments -- nearly $30 less than it was in June, a loss of about one-fourth of its value.

Al-Badri shrugged off this loss, saying he wasn't worried because price fluctuations don't reflect "the fundamentals" of the oil market. "Demand is still growing, supply is also growing. OPEC is reviewing the situation," he said. "There is nothing wrong with the market."

Current production limits for OPEC members probably will stay in place in 2015, he said, adding that the cartel isn't likely to lower that cap at its next meeting in Vienna on Nov. 27. He also said he expects individual members won't produce significantly below that cap in the coming year.

El-Badri said the expected demand for OPEC's oil in 2015 also will be about the same as in 2014: between 29.5 million and 30 million barrels of oil per day.

One reason why OPEC members shouldn't panic, el-Badri said, is that persistent lower prices hurt the cartel's members far less than they affect companies extracting shale oil with new, costly technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. As a result, he said, OPEC has a competitive edge over most of the overall oil market.

"If prices stay at $85, we will see a lot of investment, a lot of oil, going out of the market," el-Badri said. "About 65 percent of the producers, they have high costs. Not OPEC."

Some oil executives have challenged that view. Marianne Kah, the chief economist of ConocoPhillips, said the price of oil would need to plummet to $50 a barrel "to really harm [shale] oil production." Bob Dudley, BP's CEO, said the cost of using the new extraction techniques has come down recently, and noted that the biggest victim of low prices are Russian oil companies, which have been caught in the middle of a dispute with Moscow and the West over the Ukraine crisis.

The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Russia and its oil sector over Moscow's suspected meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs. While they've had an effect, Dudley said, the sanctions alone aren't a concern to Russia.

"It is the lower oil price that puts more pressure on Russia than the sanctions themselves," Dudley said.

 

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