OPEC: Speculators to blame for high oil prices

@CNNMoneyInvest December 7, 2011: 12:27 PM ET

DOHA, Qatar (CNNMoney) -- The head of OPEC said Wednesday that speculators are at least partly to blame for high oil prices -- not any lack of supply on world markets.

Speaking at a World Petroleum Congress panel, OPEC Secretary General Abdulla Salem El Badri said the world has plenty of crude but that the number of barrels of oil changing hands in the financial markets is 35 times greater than the actual supply.

The numbers he cited were 3 billion barrels per day traded on global exchanges, but only 76 million barrels per day in actual supply.

"Oil resources are clearly plentiful," said Badri, a Libyan. "Speculation is playing a very important part in inflating these prices."

Yet Badri doesn't think the cost of oil -- currently near $100 a barrel in the United States -- is excessively high.

"The current price is comfortable for producers and consumers," he said. "It allows producers to make investments, yet doesn't hinder the global economy."

Not so, said Maria van der Hoeven, head of the International Energy Agency, appearing opposite Badri on a panel moderated by CNN's John Defterios.

"The oil burden in 2011 is set to exceed 2008 levels," said van der Hoeven, referring to the percent of people's pay that will be devoted to fuel. "For consumers, crude prices are alarmingly high."

Big Oil sees energy bonanza ahead

The IEA represents oil consuming countries including the United States, Japan and European nations.

That speculators are driving up oil prices is a claim OPEC has made before. Plenty of others, including the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, believe newfound interest in oil contracts by the likes of pension funds, hedge funds and investment banks is causing oil to be unnecessarily pricey.

On Tuesday, the heads of the world's major oil companies including Exxon Mobil (XOM, Fortune 500), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) and ConocoPhillips (COP, Fortune 500) echoed Badri's claim that oil supplies are indeed plentiful.

But others think investor interest is having only a minimal impact. The real cause of high oil prices, they say, is the fact that the world is using an ever increasing amount of oil, and that oil is getting progressively more expensive to find.

"We believe high prices are due to tight supply," said van der Hoeven.

She didn't mention speculators in her speech, but she did say that production at the world's current oil wells is declining by a rate of 7% per year.

At that rate, the world needs to find and produce an extra 47 million barrels a day by 2035 just to maintain current production levels of nearly 90 million barrels a day.

Add to that an extra 30% increase in oil demand that's projected to accompany a doubling of the world's economic output by that time.

"To meet this 47 million (barrels) you will need a lot of investment," said van der Hoeven, in what was a perhaps a gentle prod to get OPEC -- and Big Oil for that matter -- to put more of their near-record earnings into finding new sources of crude. "Substantial new sources of oil need to be tapped."  To top of page

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