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Oil up more than $2 a barrel despite expected output rise

VIENNA -- OPEC is expected to raise its daily output quota by half a million barrels when it meets this week, though analysts said the move would have little impact on oil prices -- an opinion that appeared to be verified by a $2-a-barrel surge yesterday.

The anticipated increase would bring the official quota to 28 million barrels per day -- a symbolic gesture, analysts said, since the cartel is already pumping that much. Including Iraq, which is not bound by the official quota, OPEC's daily output was 29.3 million barrels a day in May, according to the International Energy Agency.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries produces enough crude oil to meet about 35 percent of daily demand, which is about 82.5 million barrels a day now and is forecast to average more than 84 million barrels a day for the year.

Analysts say the underlying reason for current high prices is not a shortage of oil, but rather the petroleum industry's limited excess production capacity, which leaves only a limited supply cushion in the event of an unexpected disruption.

The war in Iraq, labor unrest in Nigeria, and political uncertainty in Russia and Venezuela have made oil traders uneasy for about two years. Rising demand, particularly in China and the United States, has also contributed to the market's nervousness.

''The fundamental factor for rising prices is the limited spare crude oil production capacity in OPEC," said oil analyst Victor Shum of Purvin & Gertz, an energy consultancy.

Yesterday, Brent crude futures shot up $2.11 to $54.78 a barrel on London's International Petroleum Exchange. Light sweet crude futures rose $2.08 to $55.62 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where heating oil futures jumped 5.57 cents to $1.6631 per gallon.

Saudi Arabia is the only known country in the group with the ability to add barrels to daily production.

But the kingdom's oil minister, Ali Naimi, says that even if OPEC raises its production ceiling, it may not make sense to add actual oil to the market. He attributes the high prices to bottlenecks in the worldwide refining system.

Naimi said Saudi Arabia is pumping 9.5 million barrels a day this month.

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