The price of crude is creeping up again. The reason: OPEC, the oil exporters group, is planning to cut production by more than two-million barrels a day, CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason reports.
It's a desperation move. At $20 a barrel in 1997, oil plunged to $10 in December, a 12-year low, after the Asian crisis dried up demand. Crude has climbed back to $14, but analyst Daniel Yergin says that price is by no means stable.
"This is a fragile situation," Yergin, of Cambridge Energy Advisors, says. "The oil price is hanging on a precipice. And everything in the short term depends on what OPEC and non-OPEC exporters do."
The once mighty OPEC has had a hard time agreeing on anything lately. But if members don't cut production, oil prices could collapse.
"You're looking at a price that has very little floor," Yergin says. "It could go as low as $5 a barrel."
That would send gasoline prices, already the lowest they've been since the Depression, further south. For some countries, that could mean big trouble.
Nearly half of Russia's hard-currency earnings come from crude-oil exports. For Venezuela, where the U.S. gets much of its crude, that number is nearly 80 percent. For Mexico, it's almost 40 percent.
The crisis has already driven U.S. oil giants Exxon and Mobil together. And Yergin says another price plunge could dry up the industry.
"If you had prices at $5 or $6 or $7 or $8 a barrel, then you're gonna close down a good part of the oil production in the United States," he says.
OPEC meets later this month. This time the members seem to be serious about propping up prices. At worst, analysts say that would cost drivers only a few pennies more at the pump.
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CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff