Oil prices rise on concerns over supply disruptions, but surging US output looms

Oil prices rose on Thursday, lifted by concerns over supply disruptions in Venezuela and the Middle East as well as by strong demand.

Brent crude oil futures were at 74.44 per barrel at 0105 GMT, up 44 cents, or 0.6 percent, from their last close.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 31 cents, or 0.5 percent, at USD 68.36 per barrel.

Oil output in Venezuela , a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has fallen from almost 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to just around 1.5 million bpd currently due to political and economic turmoil in the South American country.

US oil major Chevron Corp has evacuated executives from Venezuela after two of its workers were imprisoned over a contract dispute with state-owned oil company PDVSA.

Venezuela’s plunging output comes amid strong demand as well as concerns that supplies from the Middle East, by far the world’s biggest oil producing region, could also be disrupted, especially should the United States in May re-impose sanctions against OPEC-member Iran.

US President Donald Trump will decide by May 12 whether to restore US sanctions on Tehran, which would likely result in a reduction of its oil exports.

Not all market indicators point towards tighter supplies, however.

US crude oil inventories rose by 2.2 million barrels in the week to April 20, to 429.74 million barrels. That’s almost 10 million barrels above the five-year average.

US crude production rose by 46,000 barrels per day (bpd) on the previous week, to 10.59 bpd. That’s an increase of more than a quarter since mid-2016.

American crude oil output has overtaken that of top exporter Saudi Arabia. Only Russia currently produces more, at around 11 million bpd.

With US output surging, some analysts warn that the 20-percent climb in Brent prices since February is starting to look overdone.

“The market does look a little toppish,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader.