The price of oil rose for the fourth straight day Thursday, to above $97 per barrel, as an ongoing cold spell in parts of the U.S. boosted demand for heating oil.
U.S. crude for March delivery rose 59 cents to close at $97.32 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, fell 69 cents to close at $107.58 in London.
Natural gas futures rose again, adding 4 cents to close at $4.73 per 1,000 cubic feet, as temperatures in many parts of the U.S. Northeast remained in the single digits and forecasts called for continued cold over the next week, boosting anticipated heating demand. Natural gas futures are up 18 percent over the past two weeks, to their highest level since July of 2011.
The deep chill blanketing much of the central and eastern U.S. is also reducing stocks of heating oil, as homeowners crank up the thermostat and electric utilities burn it to avoid paying for natural gas. Natural gas has skyrocketed to record prices of more than $100 per 1,000 cubic feet on the spot market in some regions.
That, in turn, is leading to higher crude prices, as traders anticipate that refineries will need to process more crude to meet heating oil demand.
“The weather factor is becoming an increasingly important driver,” wrote energy analyst Jim Ritterbusch in a report Thursday.
At the pump, the average retail price of a gallon of gasoline rose less than a penny Thursday to $3.29 per gallon, according to AAA, OPIS and Wright Express. That’s 3 cents higher than a month ago, but 3 cents lower than at this time last year.
In other energy-futures trading on Nymex:
- Wholesale gasoline fell 1.5 cents to close at $2.662 a gallon.
- Heating oil rose 1 cent to close at $2.991 a gallon.