Algeria hostage crisis: 'Dark cloud' over Algeria's energy sector, warns IEA

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Price pressures on the global oil market have suddenly tightened, and the deadly hostage drama at a gas field in Algeria puts a "dark cloud" over the country's entire energy sector, the International Energy Agency warned on Friday.

The IEA said that a dominant factor in the global energy market now "has a lot to do with political risk writ large, and not just in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya or Venezuela", and including regulatory risks.

The IEA said that its estimates for global oil demand this year suddenly looked tighter mainly because of unexpectedly strong data for demand in the United States and China in the last quarter of last year, but it also said that some data was uncertain and would be volatile.

The agency raised its forecast for global oil demand this year by 240,000 barrels per day from its estimate in December to 90.8m barrels per day, and to 930,000 bpd or 1.0pc more than in 2012.

On the attack on the In Amenas gas field in Algeria on Wednesday, the IEA warned: "The 16 January kidnapping and murder of foreign oil workers at the In Amenas gas field has cast a dark cloud over the outlook for the country's energy sector.

"Production at the field was shut in, including an estimated 50,000 barrels per day of condensate," the IEA said, referring to claims by Islamist attackers that they had acted in retaliation for French military action against Islamists in Mali.

The IEA noted that the In Amenas field was a joint venture grouping the operator Statoil (Xetra: 676685 - news) , BP (LSE: BP.L - news) and state-run Sonatrach and involving Japanese engineering firm JGC (Other OTC: JGCCY - news) .

The IEA, the energy arm of the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, said the outlook for its first monthly report of the year "paints a sobering" view of the oil market.

In "one fell swoop" the estimated demand for oil from members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in the last quarter of last year had risen by 400,000 barrels per day.

"All of a sudden the market looks tighter than we thought," the IEA said.

Under a headline "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", the IEA said that owing to uncertainty about data, notably concerning demand in China and production in Saudi Arabia, it might be too early to "declare the start of a new market cycle or a return to the bull market of yesteryear."

However, it pointed to a potential rebound.

The bull market of 2003-08 was driven by demand and worries about supplies. A bear market followed, driven by the financial crisis.

Now "political risk" is a central driving factor, including regulatory issues and changes, the IEA said.

"Changes in tax and trade policies, in China as in Russia, can, at the stroke of a pen, shake up crude and products markets and redraw the oil trade map," it said.

The countries in the OECD area are also at risk in part because "above-ground" issues such as export and shipping legislation have become misaligned.

Source: AFP