The logo of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is pictured on the wall of the new OPEC headquarters in Vienna, March 16, 2010.
Heinz-Peter Bader / Reuters

The last time that the world’s oil ministers met—in June in Vienna, Austria—oil hovered around $65 per barrel, a recovery from the steep drop earlier in the year. The meeting concluded with optimism that the plunge in oil prices had largely abated. As the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meets again—with its oil basket price now just below $40 per barrel—delegates will have to grapple with how wrong they were.

There are two theories about how OPEC will handle the bad news. The first centers on the fact that, after a year of low oil prices, the Saudis are facing open revolt from other OPEC members for letting the market, rather than production, determine prices. Saudi Arabia is loath to cut oil production because it would bear most of the cost in terms of lost sales, while higher prices would mostly benefit others, including non-OPEC

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  • JEFF COLGAN is Richard Holbrooke Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Brown University.
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