Oil gains slightly on supply report; natural gas soars, then plunges to loss

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NEW YORK, N.Y. – The price of oil advanced 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 US$5 per 1,000 cubic feet on a continuation of recent volatility in that market.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil for March delivery rose 19 cents to US$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 US$106.25 on the ICE exchange in London.

The U.S. 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 seven per cent to US$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 US$5.03, down 34.5 cents for the day.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex: wholesale gasoline gained four cents to US$2.64 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres) and heating oil added one cent to US$2.97 a gallon.

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