The dominant position of the oil-producing countries is being challenged in the international oil market by the large international oil companies. The large private international oil companies, already comparable in size to the largest of the NOCs, have managed to make significant advances in efficiency in the field of organization, finance, human capital and technology. Their ability to compete has improved dramatically since 1973. Moreover, the availability of new opportunities for exploration in the former Soviet Union has allowed the private international oil companies to expand their activities and lure capital away from the OPEC countries. As a result, the average cost of a barrel of oil produced by the private companies has decreased substantially since the 1970s. At the same time, costs for the NOCs have increased due to organizational inefficiencies. The difference between low-cost-extraction' oil and high-cost-extraction' oil, the critical element in the competitive advantage of the OPEC countries, has been significantly narrowed. Unless the oil-producing countries acknowledge the root of their problems, they will end up surrendering their remaining competitive advantage by clinging to an obsolete oil regime.