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Crude slips despite cold snap

Market bracing for winter blast

Oil futures fell slightly yesterday even as the market braced for a possible Arctic blast in the United States that could drive up demand for home-heating fuels.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery settled 14 cents lower at $45.64 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

It had fallen 64 cents Monday after a short-lived cold snap across the Eastern United States -- but concerns of another, bigger chill loom amid tight supplies of winter fuel.

''This week, we are staring a much bigger blast right in the face," said Accuweather's website, referring to cold air sweeping in from Canada. ''As the week unfolds, the jet stream will plunge southward, and the Arctic will empty its contents into the United States."

On London's International Petroleum Exchange, February Brent crude fell 8 cents to $42.37 per barrel.

A key factor underpinning higher oil prices is the tight supply of distillate fuels, which include heating oil and diesel.

The US Energy Department releases its petroleum supply report today and many traders expect to see a decline in the commercially available supply of distillate, which is already 12 percent below year-ago levels.

Heating oil was essentially flat at $1.3994 per gallon on the Nymex, where natural gas futures fell 9.6 cents to $6.856 per 1,000 cubic feet and gasoline futures rose 1.47 cent to $1.1669 per gallon.

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