Javier Blas is the FT's commodities editor
While Libya has monopolized the attention of the oil market this year, Angola has also been a source of supply disruptions, helping to push crude oil prices higher.
The west African country, which joined the Opec oil cartel in 2007, has seen its output fall significantly this year. In 2010 it pumped an average of 1.85 million barrels a day but so far this year it has managed just 1.65 million b/d. Yet oil production is now starting to recover after lengthy repairs and the start up of new oil fields, pressuring prices.
Angola is far more important to the oil market than appears at first glance.
The country produces a mere two per cent of global output but the headline figure is deceptive. Angola pumps a particularly low-sulphur crude, sought after by Chinese and Indian refineries to produce high-quality gasoline and diesel.
Beijing bought about 45 per cent of Angola’s output last year. The U.S. and India are the second and third largest buyers, accounting for another third of its exports.
Over the last decade Angola has been one of the success stories of the oil industry, more than doubling its production. Output rose from about 750,000 b/d in 2001 to a peak of nearly 2 million b/d in January 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Since early last year production growth has stalled - and even has fallen - because of a hiatus of new projects and glitches in several fields. The shortfall has pushed China and other developing countries to buy more crude from Nigeria, which usually goes to Europe, contributing to higher Brent oil prices.
But the period of falling output appears to be coming to an end. Output surged in September to a 16-month peak and all points to further increases next year. If the trend is confirmed, Angola could become a downward force for oil prices.
On the one hand, the technical problems in the ExxonMobil-operated Saxi-Batuque fields and the BP-operated Greater Plutonio development are slowly been resolved. Although the critical water injection system of the Greater Plutonio field continues to give headaches to BP, output in both fields should rise by 150,000 b/d.
On the other hand, after nearly a two-year pause, international oil companies are bringing new oil fields on stream. The Pazflor field will add 200,000 b/d by the end of the year. Operated by Total of France, the field started pumping ahead of schedule on August 24.
Moreover, BP is expected to add another 150,000 from March-April when it opens the taps of its Plutao, Saturna, Venus and Marte cluster of oil fields. ExxonMobil could add another 150,000 b/d of capacity with the start of satellite fields from its Kizomba-D cluster.
In total, Angolan production capacity should recover by 400,000 b/d year-on-year, taking into account new additions and the expected natural decline of older fields.
The output limitations imposed by Opec could cut the actual swing in 2012 but production should increase enough to help to lower oil prices next year.