In an escalation of the conflict in Libya, the navy opened fire on
Monday after an oil tanker approached to illegally load crude at a
port controlled by rebels. The episode came after the country over
the weekend restarted production at a major oil field.
Brent crude for February delivery rose 48 cents to $107.21 at 0259
GMT, after having settled lower in the previous five sessions,
partly on expectations of rising Libyan exports.
U.S. crude was 25 cents higher at $93.68 a barrel. The contract has
also fallen in the past five sessions and settled 53 cents lower on
"I think the restart of production (at El Sharara) is priced in by
now. Maybe it's even overshot to the downside," said Tony Nunan, oil
risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp. in Tokyo.
The restart of the 340,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) El Sharara field
will more than double Libyan crude production, which had fallen to
250,000 bpd from 1.4 million bpd in July.
While expectations of more Libyan supply have helped push prices
lower, an escalation of months-long civil unrest in the African
country could provide a floor under the market.
"This just shows that the trouble in the Middle East and North
Africa is a chronic problem that's going to take years to solve,"
"I think Brent will stay in triple digits as long as we have this
instability in the region."
Oil prices were also supported by severe cold weather sweeping
across the central United States that threatens to curtail some oil
production as wells were stranded and drilling and fracking
operations were interrupted.
Still, as of late Monday, major U.S. oil producers had only reported
minor effects on their operations. Temperatures were forecast to
swing back to normal levels in Texas and North Dakota by Wednesday.
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Next week, trading will begin for crude oil loading in March, when a
drop in demand can be expected as refiners in the United States and
elsewhere enter spring maintenance.
"We have probably already passed the peak in winter crude purchases.
I think the situation in Libya, Fed tapering and a stronger dollar
doesn't bode well for crude prices," said Nunan.
U.S. commercial crude oil inventories likely rose 2.2 million
barrels in the week ended Jan. 3 after near-record five-week
declines, a preliminary Reuters poll of analysts showed on Monday.
In the previous five weeks, U.S. crude stocks fell by more than 30
million barrels — the biggest such decline since 1990 — as Gulf
Coast refiners drew down stocks to minimize year-end taxes.
Distillate stocks rose sharply last week.
OPEC's oil output averaged 29.53 million barrels per day in
December, falling to the lowest since May 2011, a Reuters survey
found, due to strikes and protests in Libya, stagnation in Iraqi
exports and a further reduction in Saudi Arabian supply.
(Editing by Richard Pullin)
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