Oil capped near $97 on oversupply possibility

Oil capped near $97 on oversupply possibility

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Oil remained above $97 a barrel Thursday on lower U.S. stockpiles but concerns of oversupply in the Middle East capped gains.

Benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery was up 4 cents at $97.24 a barrel at midafternoon Kuala Lumpur time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.16 to close at $97.20 on Wednesday.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed Wednesday to maintain its daily production target of 30 million barrels a day.

However, it faces the prospect of overproduction after Iran announced plans to pump up to 4 million barrels a day once sanctions on its crude exports are lifted. Libya also hopes to increase output to 2 million barrels a day once unrest ebbs.

In all, OPEC members would have to reduce their production to keep prices from dropping sharply and hurting oil revenues that underpin their economies. This sparked concerns of a production war inside the cartel.

Jitters over the OPEC meeting offset positive news from the U.S. after the Energy Department said crude oil supplies fell by 5.6 million barrels, or 1.4 percent, last week, ending 10 straight weekly increases. The decline was more than four times bigger than analysts had predicted.

At 385.8 million barrels, the nation’s supply of oil is still 3.8 percent above year-ago levels.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was down 13 cents at $111.75 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 0.9 cent to $2.71 a gallon.

— Heating oil shed 0.2 cent to $3.057 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 0.4 cent to $3.956 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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