Shale oil wells in California Copyright Getty Images North America

Pump jacks and wells are seen in an oil field on the Monterey Shale formation in California. OPEC says an influx of oil production from newcomers, including shale oil, is driving down oil prices.

OPEC Nations Blame 'Newcomers' for Plunging Oil Prices

Last month, OPEC decided to maintain production levels of 30 million barrels per day despite pleas by some members to cut output in a bid to curb sliding prices.

Oil-rich Arab Gulf countries on Sunday blamed "irresponsible" non-OPEC producers for a plunge in global crude prices, but voiced confidence that markets would rebound.

World prices have fallen almost 50% since June, mainly due to a supply glut, the weak global economy and a strong U.S. dollar.

UAE energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei, in a clear reference to shale and sand oil output from North America and other emerging energy markets, attributed the price dive to "newcomers."

"One of the main causes is irresponsible production by some producers from outside the [OPEC] organization," he told an energy forum in Abu Dhabi.

The global oil market has become increasingly competitive in recent years with the surge in shale and sand oil production from countries outside the decades-old OPEC alliance. 

OPEC's decision, which aims to provide the market with time to rebalance, is correct, strategic and useful to the global economy.

— UAE energy minister Suhail al-Mazrouei

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi also lashed out at non-OPEC members, claiming the global price fall on a "lack of cooperation by main producing countries outside OPEC, misleading information and speculators' greed."

In a further reference to shale oil, Naimi predicted that "high-cost producers will not continue to increase production."

Last month, OPEC decided to maintain production levels of 30 million barrels per day despite pleas by some members to cut output in a bid to curb sliding prices.

Mazrouei defended the measure, which he said would stabilize oil markets.

"OPEC's decision, which aims to provide the market with time to rebalance, is correct, strategic and useful to the global economy," he added.

No Saudi Conspiracy

Naimi dismissed claims of a Saudi "plot" to push prices down for political goals, insisting that the kingdom's policy is "based on pure economic principles."

Unlike rich Gulf members of the cartel, non-Arab OPEC members lack the sovereign wealth funds to smooth over oil price fluctuations and have budgeted for price scenarios now radically out of sync with reality. 

Russia and OPEC-member Iran, whose economies rely heavily on oil revenues, have spoken of a market conspiracy to hold prices down after OPEC's decision to keep output steady.

Analysts have said Saudi Arabia is content to see shale oil producers -- and even some OPEC members -- suffer from low prices rather than reduce output to boost prices.

Countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela have also been hit hard by the downturn. 

"Recently, certain analyses and articles have spoken of a politically motivated Saudi plot, using oil and its prices against this country or that... This is baseless," Naimi said.

"I am confident that oil markets will recover... and that oil prices will improve," he added.

Qatar's energy minister, Mohammed al-Sada, also sounded upbeat, arguing that tumbling oil prices represented a "temporary correction."

He warned however that prices at their current level could "weaken investment" in production capacity needed to meet future demand.

"The growing demand for energy necessitates huge investments," he said.

Although prices rebounded sharply on Friday from four-year lows -- with the benchmark price just over $60 a barrel -- analysts say Gulf countries are bracing for a sharp decline in oil revenue. 

Pumping about 17.5 million barrels per day, the countries are forecast to lose at least half their income from oil, or around $350 billion a year, at current price levels.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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