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Serious Review of World Oil Market
Needed, U.S. Energy Secretary Says

Associated Press
LONDON — A serious review must be made of world oil markets to end volatility that threatens the international economy, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said Tuesday.

Output should be increased and the market allowed to determine the level of prices and supply, Richardson said after meeting with Venezuela's energy minister, Ali Rodriguez.

Richardson noted that world production is currently 73 million barrels of oil a day, against consumption of 75 million barrels.

"We cannot sustain this imbalance between supply and demand without risking repercussions for the world economy," he told a news conference. "We believe that greater equilibrium between the production and consumption will help end this volatility."

During a 12-day tour of Europe and the Middle East, Richardson said he has obtained agreements from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Venezuela to reevaluate market conditions and production levels.

Signs that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries will extend its production cuts beyond March have helped push the price of oil to around $30 a barrel, compared with $10 about a year ago.

Richardson said stocks of oil and oil products are "substantially lower" than in 1996. In the United States, stocks of gasoline are down 15 percent from a year ago — "not a good statistic," he said.

"We believe that current low stocks can affect inflation," Richardson said.

But he said the United States won't intervene to determine the price of oil and added that artificial constraints aren't good for the oil market. The United States also will not pressure producers to increase output to ease high oil prices, he said.

Rodriguez said OPEC members are committed to market stability and will take the "appropriate decision" on whether to raise output or extend output cut agreements from April 1.

He refused to elaborate on what that decision would be, though he told Dow Jones Newswires on Monday that he expected OPEC would likely wait until the second half of this year to increase output.

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