Oil above $97 a barrel as US supplies decline
(AP) - The price of oil rose for a fourth straight day as the government reported the first drop in crude oil supplies in 11 weeks.
Benchmark crude oil for January delivery rose $1.16 to $97.20 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil has gained $4.90 a barrel, or 5.3 percent, over the past four trading sessions.
The Energy Department said Wednesday that crude oil supplies decreased by 5.6 million barrels, or 1.4 percent, last week, breaking a streak of 10 consecutive 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.
Meanwhile, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries kept intact its daily production target of 30 million barrels a day at a meeting in Vienna. But the group may come under pressure to reduce production if some supply sources currently experiencing disruptions return to normal.
For its part, Iran indirectly challenged OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia, announcing it plans to pump as much oil as it can once sanctions on its crude exports are lifted, even if its extra output drives prices into the basement.
Iran is currently thought to export around 1 million barrels of crude oil a day- down from 2.2 million barrels in late 2011- selling mostly to Asian countries like India, China and South Korea, which have received waivers from the United States.
In the U.S., the average price for a gallon of gasoline remained at $3.26. That's down 3 cents from a week ago and 12 cents cheaper than at this time last year.
Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, dropped 74 cents at $111.88 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
_ Wholesale gasoline was flat at $2.72 a gallon.
_ Heating oil fell 1 cent to $3.06 a gallon.
_ Natural gas lost 2 cents to $3.96 per 1,000 cubic feet.
George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.
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