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WHEN the price of oil reached another record on May 6th, of over $122 a barrel, analysts pointed to attacks on pipelines in Nigeria and turmoil in Iraq as the immediate causes. Even small disruptions to supplies from such places can cause the price to jump, since only Saudi Arabia has the capacity to replace the lost production, and it does not seem inclined to do so. But to understand how supplies became so scarce in the first place, one must look at the state of the oil industry in Russia, the world's second-biggest producer.
Over the past seven years, according to Citibank, Russia accounted for 80% of the growth in oil production outside the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. The increase in its output in the early part of the decade matched the growth in demand from China and India almost barrel for barrel. Yet in April, production fell for the fourth month in a row. It is now over 2% below the peak of 9.9m barrels a day (b/d) reached in October last year. Before that, the growth in Russia's output had been slowing steadily, suggesting that the drop is not a blip. Leonid Fedun, a vice-president of Lukoil, a local oil firm, says Russia's production will never top 10m b/d. The discovery that Russia can no longer be relied upon to cater to the world's ever-increasing appetite for oil is naturally helping to propel prices to record levels...........continued
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