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AP News

Oil gains; natural gas soars, then falls back

NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil rose slightly Wednesday as a report showed U.S. supplies rose less than expected last week.

Natural gas rocketed to a new four-year high before plunging back near $5 per 1,000 cubic feet on a continuation of the recent volatility in that market. And the average price for gasoline remained at $3.27 a gallon as the wild winter weather reduces driving and the need for fuel.

The benchmark U.S. crude contract for March delivery rose 19 cents to $97.38 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, gained 47 cents to $106.25 on the ICE exchange in London.

The Energy Department said supplies of crude oil rose 400,000 barrels last week, less than the 1.5 million barrel increase expected by analysts surveyed by Platts. But analysts cautioned that bad weather sharply curtailed imports, which will likely rebound once shipping conditions improve.

The northeastern U.S. endured a second storm for the week, with a mix of snow and freezing rain snarling daily commutes Wednesday. Colder temperatures are expected to follow, increasing demand for heating fuels such as natural gas.

Natural gas rose 7 percent to $5.74 per 1,000 cubic feet in morning trading. That appeared to set off some profit-taking, and the price dropped to $4.99 before closing at $5.03, down 34.5 cents for the day.

At the gas pump, the average price of $3.27 is down 5 cents from a month ago and down 27 cents from this time last year. Prices usually rise at this time of year as refineries undergo seasonal maintenance, reducing supplies. But the harsh weather has kept many drivers inside, cutting demand for fuel.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline inched up 4 cents to $2.64 a gallon.

— Heating oil added 1 cent to $2.97 a gallon.

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