Crude oil slips below US$95 a barrel, Brent rises as focus returns to Iran talks

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The price of oil slipped to just under US$95 a barrel Friday but still finished the week up a dollar.

Benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery fell 60 cents to close at US$94.84 in trading in New York. The weekly increase from $93.84 a week ago was largely due to an improving U.S. jobs picture, which would mean more drivers making the daily commute.

Brent crude, an international benchmark used to price oil used in many U.S. refineries, rose 97 cents to US$111.05 in London.

Brent has risen four per cent since Tuesday as nuclear talks with Iran have dragged on without a deal that could relieve sanctions that have kept a substantial amount of Iranian crude from world markets.

In Geneva, negotiators are trying to reach an agreement that would limit Tehran’s atomic program. In exchange, the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are offering a gradual easing of sanctions that has prevented Iran from selling as much oil as it wants.

A senior U.S. official has told reporters that Iran is losing $5 billion a month in oil sales.

Meanwhile, gasoline prices in the U.S. are in the midst of an unusual increase for this time of year.

A handful of refinery problems in the Gulf Coast have slowed output, while an increase in exports has reduced supplies. Meanwhile, the price of ethanol, which is blended into gasoline, has nearly doubled over the last two weeks.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex, wholesale gasoline slipped two cents to US$2.73 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres), heating oil added three cents to US$3.04 a gallon and natural gas rose seven cents to US$3.77 per 1,000 cubic feet.