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OPEC exit frees Qatar from U.S. legal concerns

By Rania El Gamal and Eric Knecht

DUBAI/DOHA (Reuters) – Even before taking over Qatar’s energy policy in a government reshuffle last month, Qatar Petroleum (QP) CEO Saad al-Kaabi had long wanted the Gulf state to leave OPEC.

Kaabi was concerned OPEC membership could be a stumbling block for QP’s ambitions in the United States, where it has one of the world’s biggest LNG terminals, and a distraction as Doha doubles down on gas production, three industry sources said.

Proposed U.S. legislation known as NOPEC (No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act) could expose members of the oil exporters club to antitrust lawsuits, a risk for QP at a time it is planning to invest billions more in the United States.

The sources said Qatar’s exit had been in the works for months, driven by Kaabi’s desire to focus on Qatar’s strength in liquefied national gas (LNG) rather than OPEC, where Doha has little say anyway because it doesn’t produce much oil.

“It takes Qatar out of the whole debate within the U.S. Congress on whether or not OPEC is a cartel,” said James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “If anything it puts Qatar in America’s good books.”

The decision to leave after 57 years just two days ahead of a crucial OPEC output policy meeting in Vienna last week also struck many as a shot at Saudi Arabia, which along with the Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates has imposed a boycott on Qatar since June 2017.

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