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IEA's Birol: $85/Bbl Oil Hurts Developing Countries

- By David Bird Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES UNITED NATIONS -(Dow Jones)- Current world oil prices around $85 a barrel are hurting lesser developed countries and restricting their growth, Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency said Wednesday. "If the price of oil stays at $80-$85 a barrel for the full year, in 2010 it will be equal to 4.5% of gross domestic product of these lesser developed countries," he told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview on the sidelines of a United Nations conference on energy and climate change. "That will be the highest ever" relationship between oil prices and GDP in these lesser developed countries, Birol said. "In the past 40 years, when they have been trying to develop, the price of oil was $30 a barrel and that was just 1% of GDP annually." Birol said about 1.5 billion people, or 22% of the global population, "have no access to electricity," and repeated that high oil prices will harm efforts to reduce that number. "The price is too high for the poor countries and their trade balance," he said. Birol said prolonged high oil prices will also hurt producer countries in the long run, by encouraging efficiencies and allowing costly alternative energy sources to be developed. "Very high prices are not good news for producers," he said. "They send strong signals to look for alternatives. The theory: 'The higher the better is wrong,'" he said, when asked about recent indications from Kuwait that OPEC oil ministers wouldn't act to lift oil output in the near term unless oil prices move above $100 a barrel on a sustained basis. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has said oil prices around $80 a barrel are acceptable as they fuel needed investments for future supplies, but don't harm the global economy. Birol declined to comment on what he believed was an appropriate global price for crude oil. He said the supply/demand balance for oil looks healthy in the near term, but said more production will be needed in "the next couple of years" to meet rising demand with an improved global economy. Asked if he believed Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, could produce up to its stated capacity level of 12.5 million barrels a day, Birol said; "I hope so." Saudi output is now near 8 million barrels a day, with about 4.5 million barrels a day in spare capacity. Birol also said the world will need oil output from Iraq of about twice its current supply in the next four to five years. Iraq has signed numerous contracts with international oil companies to boost output, but Birol said security, manpower and infrastructure issues pose obstacles to short-term increases in output. He said his view of the supply/demand picture would be adequate with Iraq's oil production capacity at around 5.5 million barrels a day within five years. The IEA is the oil policy watchdog for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which groups the major industrialized nations, like the U.S. - By David Bird, Dow Jones Newswires, 1-212-416-2141; david.bird@dowjones.com

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