OPEC to keep oil output steady; Venezuela wants higher prices

VIENNA, Jan 31, 2008 (AFP) – OPEC ministers turned down calls for extra output on Thursday, voicing concern that the weak US economy may cause oil prices to drop further from recent historic peaks above 100 dollars.

Most members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which pumps 40 percent of world oil, said the cartel should maintain its production level at its official meeting in the Austrian capital on Friday.

A freeze would be a snub to the United States, the world’s biggest energy consumer, whose President George W. Bush recently urged OPEC to hike output to help further reduce high oil prices that stunt economic growth and fuel inflation.

However, lower oil prices are not welcomed by crude producers as their income from exporting the commodity drops.

“We have no option now” but to hold our output target of 29.67 million oil barrels, Qatar’s Minister of Energy and Industry, Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, said on arrival in Vienna.

“We are very concerned about the world economy (…) The American economy will (influence) oil prices,” he told reporters.

By Thursday, the price of oil had slumped by about 10 percent since New York crude struck a record high of 100.09 dol