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Oil prices drop on data showing rising stores

WASHINGTON -- Oil prices fell yesterday after U S government data showed rising supplies of crude. Natural gas futures declined on the heels of a separate report that showed healthy domestic inventories of the home-heating fuel.

And on the day before Thanksgiving, a busy day for motorists, the average retail price of gasoline stood at $2.23 a gallon, 3 cents above last year.

The Energy Department's weekly petroleum report said crude-oil inventories swelled by 5.1 million barrels last week to 341.1 million barrels, or 6 percent above year ago levels.

The nation's gasoline stocks grew by 1.4 million barrels to 201.7 million barrels after a drop in refinery activity, leaving them less than 1 percent below year-ago levels. The supply of distillate fuel, which includes heating oil and diesel, is slightly above year-ago levels even after a 1.2 million barrel decline that left inventories at 133.8 million barrels.

A separate report by the agency showed the nation's inventory of natural gas declining by 1 billion cubic feet, but at 3.45 trillion cubic feet, the amount of fuel in underground storage is still 7.5 percent above year ago levels.

Light sweet crude for January delivery fell 93 cents to settle at $59.24 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where natural gas futures slid 27 cents to settle at $7.718 per 1,000 cubic feet.

On London's ICE Futures exchange, January Brent futures dipped 90 cents to settle at $59.49 a barrel.

On Tuesday, oil climbed by more than $1 on news of temporary pipeline troubles in Alaska.

Oil rose above $60 Tuesday following news that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was flowing at just 25 percent of its normal 800,000 barrel-a-day capacity, as strong winds disrupted tanker loading. Also, traders worried about shutdowns at Exxon Mobil Corp.'s refinery in Baytown, Texas, America's biggest at 562,500 barrels a day, and Citgo's 156,000 barrel-a-day refinery in Corpus Christie, Texas.

Oil prices have fallen about 23 percent since hitting an all-time trading high above $78 a barrel in mid-July. They haven't settled above $62 a barrel since Oct. 1.

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