One of the key issues concerning the price of oil at present is the current agreement by the 13 OPEC countries and 11 other non-OPEC countries, including Russia, to cut their daily levels of production by up to 1.8 mill barrels per day. The objective of this agreement is to bring balance back into the market between supply and demand by reducing the current excessive global inventories, and thereby supporting oil prices at an acceptable level.
The first 6 month agreement terminates in June and there is little sign yet that the oil glut has reduced at all significantly. Therefore the same group of producers will be meeting as part of the 172nd OPEC meeting in Vienna on 25th May, to decide whether to extend the agreement, perhaps to the end of the year.
So who exactly is OPEC?
OPEC is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It was created in Baghdad in September 1960 by its five founder members: Saudi Arabia Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Venezuela, and has its headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
OPEC's mission, according to its Statute, is to "coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its Member Countries and ensure the stabilization of oil markets in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers and a fair return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry."
Nine other countries later joined OPEC: Qatar (1961); Libya (1962); United Arab Emirates (1967); Algeria (1969); Nigeria (1971); Ecuador (1973); Angola (2007); and Gabon (1975). Indonesia joined in1962 but suspended its membership in January 2009, reactivated it in January 2016, again suspended it November 2016.
Whilst OPEC is generally regarded as a cartel, its aim has always been for its members to work together according to its common recommendations and guidelines but in the past these have often been ignored by some member countries in preference for their own national objectives. Currently OPEC is working in a much more unified manner, where compliance with the current agreement for production cuts is approaching 100%.
As of 2015, the 13 current member countries collectively accounted for about 73 percent of the world's "proven" oil reserves as well as 42 percent of actual global oil production. But at the time of OPEC's creation, the international oil market had already been dominated by what was known as the “Seven Sisters” multinational oil companies since the mid-1940s. These seven companies continued to dominate the global markets until the mid-1970s, at which time the "Seven Sisters" controlled around 85 percent of the world's petroleum reserves. These companies were:
Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP)
Gulf Oil (later part of Chevron)
Royal Dutch Shell
Standard Oil Company of California (SoCal, now Chevron)
Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (Esso, later Exxon)
Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony, later Mobil, now part of ExxonMobil)
Texaco (later merged into Chevron)
Since that time, dominance in the oil industry has shifted to OPEC and the large, state-owned oil and gas companies, such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom (Russia), China National Petroleum Corporation, National Iranian Oil Company, PDVSA (Venezuela), Petrobras (Brazil), and Petronas (Malaysia).
Now that the US is starting to re-emerge as a major producer of oil, alongside other non-OPEC producers like Russia, it is to be seen how this will affect OPEC's ability to influence supply and pricing in the international market in the future.