OPEC output has risen in January to the highest since December 2008, a Reuters survey found on Friday, suggesting oil prices near $100 a barrel have encouraged the group to pump more oil.
Any extra supply from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is likely to be welcomed by consumer nations concerned about the impact of rising oil costs on inflation and economic growth.
Supply from all 12 members of OPEC has averaged 29.49 million barrels per day (bpd) this month, up from 29.14 million bpd in December, the survey of oil companies, OPEC officials and analysts found.
“I expect progressively more oil from OPEC with prices at these levels," said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas. "As usual, more barrels are leaked out with a higher price."
The survey found top exporter Saudi Arabia and the UAE boosted supply — the first sign in Reuters surveys of extra barrels from the two Gulf producers which, together with Kuwait, are the OPEC members with the flexibility to add supply at short notice.
The biggest increase, however, was from Iraq, where international companies, such as BP and Italy's ENI, have signed contracts that could eventually lead to a huge rise in the country's production.
For now, the country, still recovering from years of war and sanctions, is not bound by OPEC output limits.
Oil prices have rallied to near $100 this month and were trading around $98 a barrel on Friday, although they dipped briefly after the Reuters survey was released.
OPEC, source of two in every five barrels of oil, has not officially changed its output policy for more than two years since cutting its output by a record 4.2 million bpd in December 2008 as prices fell and recession destroyed demand.
The Reuters survey adds to signs OPEC members are raising supply informally in response to recovering world demand and higher prices.
Output has reached the most since December 2008 — before the supply cut took effect, according to Reuters surveys.
The 11 members, excluding Iraq, bound by the supply cut delivered about half of the reduction in January, it found.
For now, however, a formal OPEC decision to pump more oil does not look likely. OPEC officials have said there is enough oil in the market and insist there is no need for the group to meet to review policy before its next scheduled gathering in June.
"I'm sure 100 percent when looking at the markets there is no shortage in the market. There is plenty of oil in the market," OPEC secretary-general Abdullah al Badri told Reuters in Davos on Thursday.
OPEC does not provide timely official figures for its production, so the oil industry relies on outside surveys for estimates of its supply.
The Reuters survey found Iraq's oil exports from its southern ports have jumped by 270,000 bpd so far in January, according to shipping data.
Saudi Arabia, which kept output little changed for most of 2010, has also raised supply slightly this month. Sources in the Reuters survey put output 80,000 bpd higher at 8.33 million bpd.
The International Energy Agency said last week Saudi Arabia was pumping considerably more, supplying 8.6 million bpd in December. Saudi Arabia has made no comment but on Thursday Badri said he did not see any increase by the Saudis.
The UAE increased supply by 50,000 bpd, the survey found, because of higher allocations to customers. Angola boosted output by the same amount after less maintenance and technical glitches than during previous months.
One participant in the survey expects a sizeable rise in Saudi supply later this year to meet Asian demand. The kingdom has boosted its 2011 crude allocation to China, industry sources said earlier this week.
“I think more oil has to be pumped by them, but I was expecting it more towards the middle of the year," said the participant, an executive with a company that buys Saudi crude.
Output from Nigeria posted the biggest decline among OPEC's members, although it is still far above its OPEC output target of 1.67 million bpd.
Iranian production also fell. The country is continuing to store unsold oil in tankers as sanctions make it more difficult to carry out financial transactions with customers.