Qatar will withdraw from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Gulf nation’s Energy Minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi announced on Monday.

The decision to quit the bloc of 15 oil-producing countries that account for almost half of the world’s oil production was confirmed by Qatar Petroleum, the country’s state oil company.

Speaking at a news conference in Doha, al-Kaabi said “the withdrawal decision reflects Qatar’s desire to focus its efforts on plans to develop and increase its natural gas production from 77 million tons per year to 110 million tons in the coming years.”

Qatar is the first Gulf country to leave the bloc of oil-producing countries.

Al Jazeera correspondent Charlotte Bellis said that Qatar decided days ahead of a December 6 OPEC meeting.

“Al-Kaabi has nothing to do with the blockade on Qatar and that they have been thinking about it for several months now,” Bellis said, reffering to a diplomatic blockade on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates ( UAE ),  Egypt and Bahrain.

“They also said that if you want to withdraw from OPEC it had to be done before the end of the year,” she added.

“They said they wanted to do this now and be transparant ahead of a December 6 OPEC meeting.”

Qatar joined OPEC in 1961, one year after the organisation’s establishment.

Earlier this week, OPEC and Russia, who together produce about 40 percent of the world’s oil, said they agreed on new oil production cuts to ensure oil price does not drop too much in the coming months.

In October, the oil price reached a four-year high of $86, but since then the price has dropped again to about $60 per barrel.

North Field

Qatar is the world’s biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG), producing almost 30 percent of the world’s natural gas.

According to Al Jazeera’s Bellis, Al-Kaabi said the declaration was purely a business decision.

“Al-Kaabi said ‘we are a small player in OPEC, and I’m a businessman, it doesn’t make sense for me to focus on things that our not our strength, and gas is our strength so that is why we’ve made this decision’,” Bellis said.

Al-Kaabi added the decision to increase the supply of natural gas is to “develop a future strategy based on growth and expansion, both in its activities at home and abroad.”

“Achieving our ambitious growth strategy will undoubtedly require focused efforts, commitment and dedication to maintain and strengthen Qatar’s position as the leading natural gas producer,” al-Kaabi.

It shares the world’s largest known natural gas field, the North Field, with Iran.

In September, Qatar announced it would increase its production of natural gas fromby adding a fourth production line to raise capacity from the North Field to 110 million tonnes a year.

natural gas lng north field Qatar

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