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AP Worldstream: Crude oil prices rise; hover under US$67 a barrel on geopolitical concerns

GILLIAN WONG
Crude oil futures rose Friday on persistent supply fears linked to Iran's nuclear standoff with the international community and militant attacks in Nigeria.
Light, sweet crude for March delivery gained 42 cents to US$66.68 a barrel in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange midmorning in Singapore. The contract on Thursday rose 41 cents to settle at US$66.26 a barrel.
Heating oil gained 1.47 cents to US$1.7927 a gallon (3.8 liters) while gasoline advanced 1.52 cents to US$1.6995 a gallon.
“Geopolitical tensions remain in Iran and Nigeria. They pose potential threats to supply that together with the world's spare capacity tightness and strong global demand, keep a relatively high floor under crude prices,” said Victor Shum, energy analyst at Purvin & Gertz in Singapore.
Markets were concerned about the dispute between Iran _ the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries _ and the West over the restarting of its nuclear program. Iran insists the program is aimed at generating electricity, while the U.S. and several European countries fear it could lead to nuclear weapons.
In Nigeria, four foreign oil workers _ a Briton, an American, a Bulgarian and a Honduran _ are still being held hostage after being kidnapped at a Shell oil platform in the oil-rich delta on Jan. 11. Militants who say they are holding the men are demanding the release of two tribal leaders and for Shell to pay local communities US$1.5 billion (euro1.2 billion) in compensation for oil pollution.
The kidnappings came amid a spate of attacks on oil installations in Africa's largest oil exporter that have forced firms to evacuate hundreds of their workers and cut 10 percent of the country's daily oil output.
Meanwhile, natural gas futures rose 10.1 cents to US$8.330 per 1,000 cubic feet, after falling 23.1 cents to US$8.229 in the previous session _ their lowest level in almost six months, after U.S. government data showed domestic inventories were well above the five-year average for this time of year.
Above-normal winter temperatures in the U.S. have helped moderate demand, soothing a market that had otherwise been jittery because 16 percent of daily natural-gas production in the Gulf of Mexico remains shut-in nearly five months after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the region, knocking out platforms, pipelines and processing plants.
The U.S. Energy Department said domestic storage of natural gas stood at 2.49 trillion cubic feet at the end of last week _ 8 percent above year-ago levels and 22 percent above the five-year average for this time of year.

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