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OPEC Could Release Small Reserves to Make Up for Shortfall Caused by War - 2003-02-28

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) says it has spare capacity of four million barrels of oil per day that could be released to make up a shortfall, in the event of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. The comments come as oil prices surged to nearly $40 a barrel in New York.

OPEC has up to four million barrels per day spare capacity, if there is a need for extra crude oil. An official with the cartel said in Vienna that, beyond that, there would be limitations. But a petroleum expert in Vienna familiar with OPEC's operations says the reserve capacity would not compensate for a shortfall, if Iraqi sabotage troops were to torch oil fields in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.

In addition, any extra long-haul crude would take weeks to get to the U.S. market.

The expert also doubts that the non-OPEC oil producing countries, such as Russia, Norway and Oman would be able to increase their oil production to meet any shortfall. But a spokesman for the Oman Embassy in Vienna said his country would not have a problem increasing supplies.

OPEC Secretary-General Alvaro Silva Calderon said in Vienna on Thursday that no guarantees could be given on oil prices. He said the current increase in prices has more to do with speculation on a possible war than with the market supply.

In January, an emergency meeting of OPEC ministers agreed to boost oil production by 6.5 percent to 24.5 million barrels per day, to meet the shortfall in oil exports from Venezuela, where domestic strife has hurt production.

The OPEC ministers will meet for a regular session in Vienna on March 11, which will be attended by non-OPEC oil producing countries, such as Russia and Oman.

Mr. Silva Calderon says the cartel does not intend to raise quotas for the second quarter of 2003, if there is no war.