The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has decided to maintain current levels of production, despite a worldwide oil glut that has driven market prices down more than 30 percent since June.
Meeting Thursday in Vienna, Austria, OPEC oil ministers decided to maintain the present output target of 30 million barrels a day. After the announcement, the price of benchmark Brent crude fell $4, to a four-year low of $73 a barrel.
The OPEC meeting, widely seen as one of the most crucial in years, came as shale oil production continues to surge in the United States. Forecasters say U.S. shale extraction will produce an additional 1 million barrels a day this year and 1 million barrels more in 2015.
With current OPEC production at 30 million barrels per day, analysts say the surge in U.S. production is proving particularly vexing for the cartel, with no OPEC strategies evident for offsetting the glut.
Led by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, OPEC pumps about one-third of the world's oil, and has faced recent pressure from its poorer members to cut output.
However, wealthier producers argued that cutting production at this time would result in further loss of market shares in North America, where demand for OPEC oil has been sharply reduced.
Analysts say the OPEC decision is a particular blow to Venezuela's economy, which is teetering on the brink of recession. The Caracas government is not seen as having the reserves necessary to ride out the weak prices, which experts say could last indefinitely.