Crude oil futures rose to within a quarter of $50 a barrel yesterday after a gas leak shut down a North Sea oil production platform, and as traders weighed concerns about heating oil supplies against the fact that temperatures have been mild in recent weeks.
The oil minister of Saudi Arabia said his country was working to raise its sustainable production capacity an additional 1.5 million barrels over the next few years to address growing demand worldwide.
Light, sweet crude for January climbed 32 cents to $49.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The last time Nymex crude settled above $50 a barrel was Nov. 3. In London, Brent crude rose $1.18 to $45.75 on the International Petroleum Exchange.
Mike Fitzpatrick, a broker at Fimat USA Inc. in New York, said there was "nothing new" pushing oil prices higher yesterday and that there was "not a terrible reaction" to the production snags in the North Sea because exports do not appear to be affected.
That said, there are lingering concerns about the nation's supply of distillate fuel, which includes heating oil and diesel.
"The weather has been relatively moderate and so everybody's looking to the inventory reports," he said, referring to the Energy Department's weekly petroleum supply report. The next report is scheduled to be released tomorrow.
About 130,000 barrels a day of oil production were shut down by Statoil ASA yesterday after a gas leak forced the company to evacuate 180 workers from a North Sea platform. By late afternoon, the leak had been contained, but officials did not immediately know how long it would be before oil output returned to normal.