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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE: Oil News Roundup: December 20, 2006 3:43 p.m.

Crude-oil futures rose to nearly $64 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after the Energy Department reported a fourth-weekly decline in U.S. crude supplies, but price gains were capped as traders factored in the first distillate-inventory climb in 11 weeks and the first gasoline supply rise in four weeks.

Here is Wednesday’s roundup of oil and energy news:

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DEFENDING THE KREMLIN: Roman Abramovich, a longtime Kremlin insider who last year sold energy producer OAO Sibneft to state-run gas giant OAO Gazprom, endorsed the Kremlin’s expansion of control over the country’s energy sector and dismissed rising Western criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

•No Quick Investment in Iraq: Major international oil companies are unlikely to begin investing in Iraq for at least another year even if a new hydrocarbon law is passed in January, politicians and analysts warn. AME Info reports on the Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to boost Iraq’s oil output.

•Iran’s Oil Industry Suffering: Iran’s dispute with the West over its nuclear program is hurting Tehran’s ability to raise money for its oil industry, Iran’s oil minister said.

•Help for Explorers: U.S. government incentives encouraged oil companies to undertake deep-water exploration projects in the Gulf of Mexico that might have been too expensive otherwise, according to an Interior Department study.

•Rig Shortage: Chevron’s deep-sea exploration has been hampered by a shortage of drilling rigs, Bloomberg reports.

•Militants Reject Ransom Offers: A militant group in Nigeria’s oil-rich river delta region said it has turned down offers of ransom for four foreign hostages captured last month from an oil export station operated by Agip, a subsidiary of Italian oil giant Eni, reiterating that the captives will only be freed in exchange for imprisoned comrades.

•China Oilfield Considers Mainland Listing: China Oilfield Services, a unit of China National Offshore Oil Corp., may list shares on a mainland exchange in order to raise more cash. The company is currently listed in Hong Kong.

•Betting on Green: Clean-energy investment will likely hit a record $100 billion this year, MarketBeat reports.

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