How does Opec know how closely its members are complying with production quotas? They use spies, of course – companies known as ‘tanker trackers’.

The most reliable data, used even by Opec countries themselves, come not from the cartel member’s energy ministries, but from so-called secondary sources – a network of spies watching, binoculars in hand, the movement of tankers in and out of the world’s biggest export terminals.

There are three main tanker trackers are Petro-Logistics, Oil Movements and Lloyd’s Intelligence Marine Unit.

Conrad Geber, head of Petro-Logistics… relies on multiple sources – from “spies” at oil ports to “friendly” officials at oil companies leaking data. But even so, he concedes the information is never 100 per cent accurate.

“There are black holes such as Nigeria and Venezuela where all you can come by is a reasonable estimate,” he says.


The confusion and distrust about production is so deep that Opec members regularly request data about fellow members’ production from the International Energy Agency. This is ironic because the IEA, created after the 1970s oil shocks as the western countries’ oil watchdog, is basically to Opec what Nato was to the Warsaw Pact.

‘The golden age for refiners is over’ (The Barrel/Platts)

Stern: We need a $2,000bn ‘green stimulus’ (FT) – but climate change represents a great business and investment opportunity (The Times)

Trade wars: Will climate change measures lead to a protectionist tit-for-tat? (WSJ)

BP blamed as carbon credit prices plunge (Guardian)

Additionality: the naughty teenagers and carparks analogy (EU Energy Blog)

Make your own wireless home energy monitor, and hook it up to Twitter

US – half of US refining capacity could be affected by a strike as contract ends this weekend

UK – workers at all three of the country’s refineries walk off job over Total’s use of an Italian contractor; no sign of disruption to supplies

Nigeria - strike threatened by Feb 11 over use of a foreign firm for oil monitoring (though we’re not quite sure yet from which country Cobalt International Services hails)

Earlier this week Platt’s blog The Barrel said Nigerian grades had strengthened against Brent since Jan 5, and traders were citing Opec cuts.

Meanwhile 12 of the 32 traders and analysts surveyed by Bloomberg this week said futures prices would rise through February 6. This is the slimmest of positive sentiment, however -  the remainder of participants were equally split between further falls and remaining neutral.

In the FT and FT.com this morning:

- Investor fury over Xstrata cash call

- Rio Tinto to sell assets to Vale for $1.6bn

- Shell’s fourth-quarter profits tumble

- Centrica looks to US in quest for further acquisitions

- Europe could spark off US energy deals

- Eaga increases interim dividend

WTI lower than Brent: With all the storage available at Cushing, WTI more accurately reflects what is going on in the world of crude (The Barrel/Platts)

Stimulus: The new administration neglects public transport at its peril (Gregor)

Stimulus: Several key Democratic senators are calling for more energy spending in the stimulus bill – mostly on oil security grounds (Platts)

Bush administration preparing a directive to ‘better clarify’ its claim to Arctic territory. (WSJ). Ironically, notes Environmental Capital, melting ice makes access to the region easier

- Oil companies’ shares rise after Fed lowers rates to near zero (AP/Forbes)

- Russia may cut oil production by 400,000 barrels a day: Kuwait’s oil minister (Bloomberg)

- Tom Vilsack, tipped to be the next US agriculture secretary, need to act quickly on bills related to farm subsidies and lower crop prices, commodities analysts said (Bloomberg)

- Ken Salazar, set to head the US interior department, can expect to face big drilling issues (WSJ)

- Ecuador’s prosecutor general removed himself from a case against two Chevron attorneys (CNN)

- Australian court blocks Xstrata mine expansion (Reuters)

- Saudi Arabia called for the biggest production cut in the history of the Opec oil cartel in an effort to counter collapsing oil prices

- General Electric delivered a sober outlook for 2009, leaving little doubt profits would fall

- Obama’s appointment of Steven Chu as US energy secretary has been welcomed by scientists and climate change campaigners

- Italian police arrested three Total employees in a corruption probe involving an oil concession

- Heat rises in Russia-Ukraine gas talks for the fourth consecutive year

- Buffett could bow out of the battle for Constellation Energy after his utility group said it would not try to outbid EDF

- Iraq signs $3bn power deal with GE to more than double its electricity generation capacity

- Falling oil price threatens bid to diversify Gulf economies

- Aluminium prices sank to a five-year low amid falling demand fear

- UK business ‘woefully served’ by power groups

UK: Nick Butler of Cambridge Judge Business School writes in the Comment pages of today’s FT that the low price of oil should force energy ministers to consider new rules that would stabilise the market

UK: ExxonMobil will invest $1bn to expand capacity of three of its refineries

UK: Oil companies storing at least 50m barrels of oil in supertankers

Australia: to reduce carbon emissions to 15% below 2000 levels by 2020; ‘Rudd blinks’ to business demands

UK: Hunting completes sale of Gibson

UK: Coastal Energy chairman resigns

Russia: Lukoil to postpone launch of ‘large international projects’

China: Implied oil demand for November down 3.5% year-on-year