Russia Becomes World's Top Oil Producer

September 10, 2009

Russia is once again the world's leading oil exporter, a spot it has occupied several times since 2002.

The latest figures from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) show Russian oil companies extracted more than 9 million barrels of oil in June after state-controlled Rosneft began pumping from a new Siberian oil field.

The production hike has helped improve economic figures in a country especially hard-hit by the global financial crisis. On September 8, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the government might revise its budget figures for the next three years.

"The slow resurrection of the economy, overcoming a drop in production, will enable us to clarify the budget's basic numbers," Putin said. "We can expect a bigger income than we'd planned earlier."

Oil accounts for a third of Russia's exports and more than half of state revenues. Russia is also the world's biggest producer of natural gas, and the largest combined energy exporter. The state has renationalized much of its oil industry in recent years, sometimes taking control of private companies by force.

Moscow promised OPEC last December it would limit production in coordination with OPEC's biggest-ever cutbacks. The cartel sought to push up prices after they plummeted from $100 in July 2008 to around $30 last January.

But the Kremlin has angered OPEC countries by raising production instead, seeking to profit from the OPEC-driven price rebound to around $70 a barrel.

Analyst Valery Nesterov of Moscow's Troika Dialog says Russia's overtaking Saudi Arabian oil production isn’t significant news:

"From time to time we have news that Russia overtakes Saudi Arabia in terms of crude oil output. We got accustomed to it in a way," Nesterov says. "But production trends in Russia remains more or less stable and even positive despite the crisis."

Analysts say Russian companies are pumping at near-capacity, while Saudi Arabia is a more flexible producer than can increase oil production.

Critics say Russia's oil policy shows the country is still addicted to energy revenues. Many blame the government's failure to diversify the economy during a decade-long oil boom for Russia's current economic woes.

OPEC members are meeting in Vienna on September 9, but are not expected to change their production levels.

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