LONDON—OPEC and its allies begin two days of meetings on Wednesday to decide whether to release more oil into the market or restrain supply amid an oil price rout and fears the Omicron coronavirus variant could weaken global energy demand.
Oil prices fell to near $70 a barrel on Tuesday from as high as $86 in October, posting their biggest monthly decline since the outset of the pandemic, as the new variant raised fears of a supply glut.
For November, Brent fell by 16.4 percent, while WTI fell 20.8 percent, the biggest monthly fall since March 2020.
“The threat to oil demand is genuine,” said Louise Dickson, senior oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy. “Another wave of lockdowns could result in up to 3 million bpd (barrels per day) of oil demand lost in the first quarter of 2022.”
Also pressuring prices, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the U.S. central bank likely will discuss speeding its reduction of bond purchases amid a strong economy and expectations that a surge in inflation will persist.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will meet on Wednesday after 1300 GMT, followed by a meeting on Thursday of OPEC+, which groups OPEC with allies including Russia.
Several OPEC+ ministers, including from Russia and Saudi Arabia, have said there was no need for a knee-jerk reaction from the group.
But some analysts have suggested OPEC+ might put plans to add 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) to supply in January on hold.
The group was already weighing the effects of last week’s announcement by the United States and other countries to release emergency crude reserves to temper energy prices.
OPEC+ has been gradually winding down record supply cuts of 10 million bpd implemented last year and currently has some 3.8 million bpd of reductions still in place.
The increase in OPEC’s oil output in November has again undershot the rise planned under a deal with allies, a Reuters survey found.