Will Saudi Arabia be dethroned as the world's leading crude oil producer?

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Brent crude, the worldwide benchmark, was down 1 cent at $67.83 a barrel at 1318 GMT.

Traders said political tensions in Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), had pushed prices higher. There's no doubt that the ten-dollar move...

Nevertheless, despite the Opec-led output cuts, the goal of rebalancing supply and demand in the oil market remained elusive.

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USA commercial crude oil inventories have fallen by nearly 20 percent from their historic highs last March, to 431.9 million barrels.

Fracking had already revolutionized US oil production, despite serious environmental concerns.

"The inevitable resumption of growth in the United States will likely nudge crude stockpiles higher again in 2018", said Morningstar analyst Joe Gemino. A boost in exports from Iraq's south, the outlet for most of its crude, to a record 3.55 million bpd in December, offset relatively low shipments from the north, the survey found.

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Global benchmark Brent crude traded at $67.93 per barrel - its highest level since May 13, 2015. "You're seeing a little bit more of a bullish push-up in the price of oil", Mark Watkins, a Park City, Utah-based regional investment manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which oversees $142 billion in assets, said by telephone. Earlier in the session, it traded as high as $68.27. In the latest week in the United States, crude stocks dropped by 5 million barrels, according to the American Petroleum Institute prior to the government's supply report that is due to be released Thursday.

As Opec's leverage over the world's biggest economy diminishes, it is hard to know how oil producers will react and, more importantly, whether this represents merely a blip or a return to the global energy landscape that existed before the Arab oil crisis of the 1970s.

"We think USA tight oil production growth warrants close monitoring as it could spoil OPEC's market-balancing efforts, pushing the market into surplus in 2018", Barclays bank said.

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This morning, prices for March futures for Brent oil rose by 2.1% to $68.01 per barrel. "USA oil production surpassed the 2015 highs in October and is set to climb to historic highs this year", he said. Supported by the global inventory drawdown and geopolitical woes, however, oil prices rose steadily in the fourth quarter of 2017 to end the year at above $60 per barrel WTI and $66 per barrel Brent.

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