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Gasoline, crude oil futures slip

WASHINGTON – Crude oil and gasoline futures prices eased on Monday, though prices are almost one-fifth higher than last year because strong demand and geopolitical uncertainty are offsetting historically high levels supply.Gasoline at the pump averaged $2.50 a gallon nationwide, and government data showed that consumption is up 1.6 percent over the past four weeks compared with the same period a year ago. That said, the Energy Department predicted last week that gasoline prices may not run up much higher for the time being.”At least for the next couple of weeks, a sharp increase in retail prices… does not appear to be on the immediate horizon,” the agency said last Wednesday in its weekly energy market report. Retail prices had jumped by 13.8 cents per gallon during the week ended March 17.On Monday, gasoline futures slipped almost 2 cents to $1.805 per gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and light sweet crude futures fell 36 cents to $63.90 per barrel. Oil futures are 18 percent higher than a year ago, while gasoline futures are 16 percent above year-ago levels.Oil analyst Timothy Evans of IFR Energy services said “we can have some confidence that supplies will likely remain adequate.”April Brent crude futures on London’s ICE Futures exchange fell 29 cents to $63.22 a barrel.Still, nagging worries about supplies from Nigeria and Iran, and growing anxiety about the next hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, were expected to limit the price decline. Some analysts believe gasoline prices could climb as high as $3 a gallon this summer, though that assumes some significant disruptions at refineries, or difficulty in getting fuel to markets.On Monday, militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta released their last remaining foreign hostages – two Americans and one Briton – more than five weeks after the oil-industry workers were kidnapped.The militants took nine foreign oil workers hostage Feb. 18 from a barge owned by Houston-based oil services company Willbros Group Inc., which was laying pipeline in the delta for Royal Dutch Shell PLC. The group released six of the captives after 12 days in captivity.The militants are behind a spate of attacks that have cut Nigeria’s oil exports by more than 20 percent. On Saturday, they said they killed three soldiers in fresh clashes near a key natural gas plant run by Shell. Shell said there was no impact on the gas plant.Iran, the No. 2 oil producer in OPEC, also remains a potential source of concern. It has been referred to the U.N. Security Council over fears it may want to misuse its nuclear program to make weapons, but the council has been at loggerheads over U.S.-led efforts to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran.In other Nymex trading, natural gas futures fell 24 cents to $7.05 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil futures inched up less than a penny to $1.796 a gallon.—Associated Press Writer George Jahn in Vienna, Austria, contributed to this report.


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