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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Price of Oil Trades Near $67 Per Barrel

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: March 30, 2006
Filed at 2:06 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) — The price of oil traded near $67 a barrel Thursday amid persistent supply disruptions in the Gulf of Mexico and Nigeria, a U.N. standoff with Iran over its nuclear program and growing demand in the U.S. despite rising energy costs.
The market was also rattled by an announcement late Wednesday from Venezuela's oil minister that Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest publicly traded oil company, was no longer welcome in his country — the latest sign of tighter state-control of energy around the globe.
''All of these things are adding up,'' said Antoine Halff, director of global energy at Fimat USA in New York.
Light sweet crude for May delivery rose 50 cents to $66.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude for May gained 50 cents to $66.05 a barrel on London's ICE Futures exchange.
Gasoline prices rose 2.68 cents to $1.981 a gallon (3.8 liters), while heating oil futures gained 1.8 cent to $1.87 gallon. Natural gas futures climbed more than 6 cents to $7.520 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Tensions between Exxon Mobil and Venezuela boiled over because the Texas-based company resisted tax increases and contract changes that are part of a policy by President Hugo Chavez's government to ''re-nationalize'' the oil industry. Rather than submit to new terms that will turn 32 privately run oil fields over to state control, the company sold its stake in a 150,000 barrel-a-day field to its partner, Spanish-Argentine major Repsol YPF.
''Exxon Mobil … preferred to sell to Repsol, its partner in the agreement, rather than adjust,'' Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said in an interview with the state-run TV broadcaster. ''We said we don't want them to be here then,'' Ramirez added.
On Thursday, top officials of the five permanent Security Council nations plus Germany urged Tehran to freeze uranium enrichment, but a senior Iranian envoy defiantly rejected the call, saying his country's activities were ''not reversible.''
Iran, the No. 2 oil producer in OPEC, has been referred to the U.N. Security Council over fears it may want to misuse its nuclear program to make weapons.
In the Gulf of Mexico, oil output is still down by 343,000 barrels per day because of damage that occurred during last summer's hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That is roughly 23 percent below pre-storm output levels.
Nigerian oil output also remains a concern. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the largest foreign oil company operating in the country, has shut in nearly half of its Nigerian production and says it won't resume operations until the country is safe enough for its workers. Some 600,000 barrels per day of Nigerian production has been shut in, according to IFR Energy Services in New York.
Concern about gasoline was also affecting the market.
In its weekly petroleum report, the U.S. Energy Department said Wednesday that gasoline inventories fell by 5.4 million barrels last week to 216.2 million barrels, about even with year ago levels. The decline came as refiners conducted maintenance on their facilities ahead of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, when fuel demand peaks.
The U.S. agency also said that motor gasoline demand averaged 9.1 million barrels a day over the last four weeks, which is up 1.3 percent from a year ago. The average U.S. retail price of gasoline is $2.50 a gallon, up 34.5 cents from the year before.
Associated Press Writers Natalie Obiko Pearson in Caracas, Venezuela, and George Jahn in Vienna, Austria, contributed to this report.

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