Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The state of Qatar, with over 600,000 barrels of daily oil output, on Monday quit its membership in OPEC, after nearly six decades, to shift its focus to natural gas.
"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's Energy Minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi said.
"Qatar is proud in its international standing at the forefront of natural gas producers, as the biggest exporter of LNG, the cleanest fossil fuel, which has given Qatar a strong and resilient economy," he added.
The withdrawal will be effective Jan. 1.
The move comes as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is set to meet on Thursday in Vienna. Traders in the crude oil market have said in past weeks they anticipate that Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest producer in the 15-member organization -- including Qatar -- would push for a production cut to help increase prices.
Crude oil prices have seen significant declines during October and November, and traders have said that there are concerns the market may be oversupplied.
According to data released by OPEC in early November, as of October, OPEC members were producing 32.9 million barrels per day combined, with Saudi Arabia leading production with 10.6 million barrels per day.
Qatar had in October a total 609,000 barrels-per-day output, which was the fifth lowest. Only Ecuador, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon had less production during that month.
Qatar's membership in OPEC dates to 1961, or just one year after the organization was formed by members from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Qatar had been the first non-founding member to join the organization.
LNG is natural gas, or methane, that has also some ethane and is processed in cryogenic plants to reduce its volume by about 600 times. This makes it easier to transport it by special ships. Once it reaches its destination, another plant processes it to return it to its natural state.
Qatar is located in the Persian Gulf next to much bigger Saudi Arabia. Qatar has a 2.6 million population and 4,468 square miles.
Crude oil prices have fallen sharply from a peak on Oct. 3, when Brent futures rose above $86 per barrel. As of 7:21 a.m. EST on Monday, it was trading at $61.67 per barrel.