OSLO, Norway – Norway's Oil Minister Einar Steensnaes indicated Tuesday that he was willing to cut oil production to stabilize plunging prices, but he gave no timeframe and made no promises.
"Norway will be in the forefront if oil prices crash or go out of control. Norway will take its responsibility if necessary to stabilize markets, but I must inform parliament first," he said, after holding talks with his Mexican counterpart.
A meeting with government officials is scheduled for Thursday, Steensnaes said.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which supplies about a third of the world's oil and has a daily production target of 23.2 million barrels, has already curtailed its official output this year by 3.5 million barrels a day without a meaningful contribution from non-OPEC producers.
OPEC agreed last week that it would scale back output by 1.5 million barrels a day on Jan. 1 but only if non-OPEC members, like Norway, Russia and Mexico, also do their part. OPEC has asked them to cut oil production by a combined 500,000 barrels a day.
Steensnaes and Mexico's Oil Minister Ernesto Martens stressed that a precondition for cuts was participation by other countries.
Russia previously offered to reduce output by 30,000 barrels daily - a fraction of their estimated daily output of about 7 million barrels. And while Russian officials have given some indications that they might consider a larger reduction in oil output, they have scoffed at the deep cuts demanded by OPEC.
But Steensnaes said he had received signals earlier Tuesday that Russia, which has recently passed Norway as the world's second-largest oil exporter, would be willing to reduce its production by more than originally announced.
"Considering their exports, it would be reasonable if they cut by a couple of hundred thousand barrels," Steensnaes said.
Earlier Tuesday in Moscow, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko admitted that the Russian government was worried by the plunging price of oil.
"The situation on the world oil markets remains alarming for the Russian leadership," Khristenko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency. "We are undoubtedly interested in the oil market stabilizing."
The Russian government is heavily dependent on oil revenues, and some analysts have warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be forced to redraft his 2002 budget if the slump in crude prices continues.
Oil prices have tumbled by a third since Sept. 11, dented by the global economic slowdown and lingering uncertainty following the terrorist attacks in the United States.
Martens confirmed that Mexico would cut its production by 100,000 barrels, if OPEC complies with its promises, but he said a Russian contribution would be "vital."
"We have made our decision, the date is set, and now we just wait and see," Martens said.
In London trading, spot-month Brent crude was up 81 cents at $18.82 a barrel. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude was up 95 cents to $19.38 a barrel, coming off of lows last seen in June 1999.