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OPEC steadily adds back production as economy recovers

FILE - In this Friday March 6, 2020 file photo, people stand outside the headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, in Vienna, Austria. Members of the OPEC oil producing cartel and allied countries led by Russia signed off Wednesday Sept. 1, 2021, on gradually increasing production as the global economy and demand for fuel continue to recover from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, file)
FILE - In this Friday March 6, 2020 file photo, people stand outside the headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, in Vienna, Austria. Members of the OPEC oil producing cartel and allied countries led by Russia signed off Wednesday Sept. 1, 2021, on gradually increasing production as the global economy and demand for fuel continue to recover from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, file) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

FRANKFURT – The OPEC oil producers' cartel and allied non-member countries led by Russia signed off Wednesday on gradually increasing production as the global economy and demand for fuel continue to recover from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The group fended off pressure from the U.S. to move faster in restoring production cuts made during the pandemic and potentially ease costs at the pump for American drivers.

The group, known as OPEC+, agreed at an online meeting to stick with earlier plans to add back 400,000 barrels per day from Oct. 1. The cartel and its allies are gingerly restoring deep cuts made last year, when lockdowns and travel restrictions caused demand for fuel and prices to crater.

Prices fell ahead of the meeting but trimmed losses afterwards. Oil was off 0.4% at $68.26 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while Brent crude, an international benchmark, traded down 0.4% at $71.36 per barrel. Prices have recovered from a slump to just above $62 for New York Mercantile Exchange crude on Aug. 20.

The OPEC+ decision tracks with a plan forged in July to add back 400,000 barrels a day each month until last year's cuts are restored next year. Key OPEC member Saudi Arabia has urged a cautious, step-by-step approach. The group has started meeting monthly to keep close watch on the market and production levels amid uncertainty about whether the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus will present further economic setbacks in different parts of the world.

Adding too much oil to the market could cause prices to slip, as they briefly did in August, while holding back production costs members money for their state budgets.

The Biden administration has urged OPEC to increase production faster, saying that higher gasoline costs risk harming the ongoing global recovery.

The average U.S. price for a gallon of gas at the pump was $3.17 on Wednesday, according to motoring federation AAA. That compares to $2.32 per gallon a year ago. The cost of crude oil accounts for about half the price of gasoline at the pump.

Analysts said gas prices might rise after refineries in the United States shut down during Hurricane Ida, but they so far have remained relatively steady.