Members of oil cartel Opec have been locked in talks over a possible increase in production that could bring some relief to motorists paying near record prices for petrol.
Crude oil prices fell bellow 100 US dollars per barrel overnight ahead of the meeting, on the expectation that Saudi Arabia would persuade the cartel to increase official production by about 6% or 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.
Opec members, who produce about 40% of the world's oil supplies, have had a quota of 24.8 million barrels per day in place since 2009, but the crisis in Libya has badly disrupted its supplies while demand generally is tipped to grow strongly over the rest of the year as the global economy recovers.
Saudi Arabia stepped up production by one million barrels to fill the Libyan gap and is now said to want a further increase of 500,000 barrels daily, though it faces opposition from some other members, most notably Iran and Venezuela, which analysts say are producing at full capacity and could lose out if prices fall.
Iran is said to want to keep the price above 100 US dollars per barrel, while Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates want it between 70 and 80 dollars to help the global recovery and keep demand high.
A production rise could have a beneficial impact on petrol prices, the AA motoring organisation said, although it noted that unleaded petrol prices were still near record levels at 136p a litre despite wholesale prices falling back since March.
The benchmark price for West Texas light crude fell to 98 US dollars last night in Asia, while North Sea Brent crude, dropped to 115 US dollars. Since the unrest in North Africa began last year, Brent crude has become more prominent as the benchmark due to high costs of storage at the US hub where the price of West Texas is set, but in recent weeks the price of both types have eased from the highs seen at the start of May on worries about the health of the US economy.
If Saudi Arabia does increase production, its output will be back to the levels seen in 2008 when the oil price soared to 147 US dollars a barrel.