OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has taken many forms down the decades, with oil-producing countries joining and then leaving the cartel, and grand alliances formed to shore up crude markets.

The next iteration might come to be remembered as ‘OPEC Minus’, writes Bloomberg oil strategist Julian Lee.

Pressure -- both political and from customers -- is growing for producers to pump more crude, with prices above $80 a barrel and an energy crisis adding an unexpected source of additional petroleum consumption.

Officially that demand can be met by 23 nations in the OPEC+ alliance. On paper, they have the capacity to pump 5.6 million barrels a day more than they are today -- the aggregation of baselines they were allowed to ramp up to under a pact to support oil prices. 

The reality is that, yes, spare production capacity does exist, but far fewer nations can materially help if the clamor for crude intensifies. 

While, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the UAE can all add more than their OPEC+ baselines imply, others - notably Russia, Angola, Nigeria, Malaysia and Kuwait - can contribute a lot less than those numbers suggest. Yet under the terms of their agreement, those members with capacity to spare aren’t permitted to fill the gap left by their struggling allies.

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus

The table below details my own assessment of spare production capacity in each of the 23 OPEC+ member countries, with an explanation of my reasoning for each in the paragraphs that follow.






Spare capacity

from OPEC+










- baseline)

Eq. Guinea1001272712020-7
Iran2,503 02,500-3-3
Libya1,148 01,2005252
Saudi Arabia9,67811,0001,32211,5001,822500
Venezuela527 053033
South Sudan15013001601010

Note: These are estimates of sustainable production capacity that can be maintained for several months; output in a single month may exceed these levels, but such levels cannot be sustained. 

Note: Iran, Libya and Venezuela are exempt from the OPEC+ output deal and therefore were not assigned baseline production levels.


Production has tracked the country’s quota both before and since the pandemic and there are no real reasons to doubt its OPEC+ baseline as an estimate of production capacity.


The gap between Angola’s crude production and its OPEC+ target is widening as natural decline erodes output.

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus

Sustainable crude production capacity of 1.2 million barrels a day is based on the highest production level achieved in 2021.

Congo Republic

Congo pumped well above its target in 2021, but output was on a downward trend that has continued this year. Output decline hasn’t reversed with the country’s rising OPEC target, suggesting capacity limitations.

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus

Equatorial Guinea

Shares the problem with other West African producers of lack of investment amid natural decline at offshore fields. Even when flouting its OPEC+ target earlier this year, production didn’t exceed 120,000 barrels a day.


Production remained close to, or even above, its OPEC+ baseline since at least January 2020.


Until sanctions on oil exports are eased, production will remain constrained around its current level. If sanctions are eased, Iran could quickly add about 1.3 million barrels a day. 

The sustainable crude production capacity estimate of 2.5 million barrels a day is based on current political conditions.


One of few OPEC+ countries with spare capacity significantly above its OPEC+ baseline. Production peaked at close to 4.8 million barrels a day in 2019, well above its quota at the time.


Kuwait Oil Company reported declining production capacity for a third year in its 2020-21 annual report. Production in the Neutral Zone shared with Saudi Arabia remains well below its potential and will only rise if both countries agree to open the taps.

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus

Sustainable crude production capacity, estimated at at 2.71 million barrels a day, includes Kuwait’s 50% share of restricted Neutral Zone production.


Exempt from the OPEC+ deal, Libya is already pumping all it can. Production risks are more heavily weighted to the downside, amid simmering tensions in the country and lack of investment in maintenance and drilling.


Like Angola, Nigeria’s production has been slipping, as lack of investment and repeated leaks at pipelines and export terminals undermines output. Situation has got so bad some refiners are shunning Nigerian crude.

In addition to crude, Nigeria pumps about 200,000 barrels a day that it classifies as condensates, which are outside the OPEC+ deal.

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Aramco declared a sustainable production capacity of 12 million barrels a day in its 2019 listing prospectus. Another 175,000 barrels was added in 2Q21, according to the company’s quarterly report. It is investing to lift capacity to 13 million barrels a day by 2027.

Absent a short-term emergency, it is unclear how close to this the country would be willing to pump, preferring to keep some in reserve.


Demanded a higher OPEC+ baseline to reflect its increased production capacity, bringing the output deal close to collapse. Continues to invest toward a goal of 5 million barrels a day by 2030.


Exempt from the OPEC+ deal, Venezuela is pumping all it can. It’s just not very much.


Output has failed to keep pace with rising target and was in decline before joining OPEC+.

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus

Production at the flagship Azeri-Chirag-Deepwater Gunashli project slipped by 6.6% q/q to 452,000 barrels a day in 2Q21.


Most production comes from the Abu Safah field, shared with and operated by Saudi Arabia. The onshore Bahrain field has a capacity of about 45,000 barrels a day.


Brunei was pumping about 120,000 barrels a day in the final months of 2019, which fell to 106,000 barrels in the first quarter of 2020.


Recent production levels were reduced by work at the Tengiz field, the country’s largest producer, so don’t give an accurate estimate of spare capacity.

Crude production rebounded to an 18-month high of 1.55 million barrels a day in October.


Another of the countries seeing production slide even as its OPEC+ target goes up. Latest dip appears to be due to unplanned maintenance work.

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus


Joined the OPEC+ cuts for only two months in May and June 2020, with plans to boost output. Subsequent production levels have remained below its baseline.

OPEC Plus? Start Thinking OPEC Minus


Was pumping about 870,000 barrels a day before joining the latest OPEC+ cuts, with a brief, but probably unsustainable, surge in March 2020.


Russia’s OPEC+ baseline of 11 million barrels a day, rising to 11.5 million barrels in April, bears no relation to past production levels. Peak production of 11.35 million barrels a day reached during the free-for-all in April 2020 included about 900,000 barrels a day of condensates, which the Energy Ministry doesn’t report separately.

South Sudan

Civil unrest has destroyed much surface infrastructure at fields and slashed production capacity from pre-war levels. Plans to boost output require internal stability.


Sudan is seeking to more than double capacity by 2025, but needs to attract foreign investors.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.