OPEC chief says ’no lack’ of oil supplies; EU boosts oil stocks

World oil reserves are currently sufficient and OPEC nations will work to avoid any export disruptions to Europe from a possible war in Iraq, the oil cartel’s secretary-general said Saturday. But European Union energy ministers, holding a two-day meeting, plan to boost reserves in the 15-nation bloc to cover at least 90 days of consumption. Currently, EU maintains about a 60-day supply. «We want the stocks in the EU to be equal with the stocks in the United States,» said Loyola de Palacio, the EU’s vice president in charge of energy and transport. OPEC’s chief, meanwhile, promised to avoid any supply problems to the EU, which depends on imports for half its energy needs. «We will cooperate with the energy ministers of the European Union and the European Commission in order to avoid any lack in oil supply,» Alvaro Silva said before the start of meetings in the northern port of Thessaloniki. The gathering took on added urgency with fears of oil price hikes and supply shortfalls if Iraq is attacked by US-led forces. Many EU leaders fear a surge in fuel costs could push sagging economies toward recession. Crude oil prices have risen nearly 20 percent since the start of the year more than $37 a barrel – their highest in more than two years. According to EU estimates, prices at this level would add about 100 billion euros ($107 billion) to the EU oil bill. Greek Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said the goal «is to safeguard Europe from any negative implications from a war in Iraq.» De Palacio denied the EU oil stocks could be used as a market tool to influence prices. Natural gas supplies were also discussed, but no additional reserves were planned. Stressing the need for an intensified dialogue with producer countries, she pointed out Russia’s role «as a strategic partner for the European Union.» About 800 protesters gathered outside the heavily guarded hotel hosting the meeting. The crowd dispersed peacefully. Many of the demonstrators were from the state-controlled Public Power Corp. to demand job protection and other measures once Greece’s energy market fully opens to foreign competition. (AP)