Oil ministers from OPEC countries signal they will keep production target steady at meeting

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VIENNA – All is not well within OPEC as the oil cartel focuses on how much crude to pump for the rest of the year.

Kurds in Iraq are defying the central government and selling their oil directly abroad. Nigeria is hurting due to shale oil production in the United States, its most important customer.

While worrisome for the two countries, such problems may help global supplies. But there is trouble in production, as well. Sales from Iran, normally second only to Saudi Arabia, are severely crimped by sanctions. And internal conflicts and domestic chaos have slashed Libya’s exports.

The upshot is that OPEC oil ministers are likely to keep their production targets unchanged at their meeting Wednesday.

While the International Energy Agency, oil consultant to major consuming countries, sees demand rising for the rest of the year, many of the 12 OPEC members are at their production capacity limits.

Once again, that will leave it to OPEC powerhouse Saudi Arabia to make up for any shortage. The kingdom is now pumping less than 10 million barrels a day. But Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi said last month its total capacity is above a daily 12 million barrels.

OPEC sets official output goals on total production by its members. With many members producing near their limits, however, Kuwaiti oil minister Ali Saleh Al-Omair spoke Tuesday of “expectations for demand to rise but for OPEC to maintain its ceiling” of 30 million barrels a day. That would allow the Saudis to adjust their production according to world market needs.

“I am confident that Saudi Arabia will, as always, discreetly increase production to cover any losses from the shortfalls of others,” said John Hall, chairman of the analysis group Alfa Energy.

Iran-Saudi regional rivalries spilled into OPEC’s December meeting, with Tehran saying it plans to pump as much oil as it can once sanctions are lifted even if its extra output drives prices into the basement.

With sanctions still biting, that confrontation remains on ice, but both nations want the post of OPEC secretary-general. Incumbent Abdullah Al-Badry of Libya has been extended twice since 2012 because of the deadlock.

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Margaret Childs in Vienna contributed to this report.

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