Oil futures surged Wednesday in New York trading on a government report showing reduced supplies of crude and heating oil and on word that Iran had successfully tested a medium-range missile, but experts said supplies of gasoline and heating oil are ample and that the prices consumers pay should be stable in coming weeks.
Locally, petroleum prices have slipped just a bit in recent weeks. Regular gasoline averaged $2.849 on Long Island Wednesday, the AAA said, down 2.1 cents in the past week, but 91 cents above a year earlier.
Home heating oil also fell from last week -- by 2.5 cents to an average of $2.911 at full service dealers on Long Island, as of Tuesday, according to the state Energy Research and Development Authority.
The AAA forecast Wednesday that 3.8 percent more Americans than last year -- about 88 million all told -- would travel 50 miles or more from home on the Christmas and New Year weekends, the vast majority by car.
Crude oil for January delivery rose $1.97 to $72.66 a barrel at the close of floor trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the biggest jump in two months, according to Bloomberg News, and it came after the Energy Department reported unexpectedly large declines last week in stocks of crude oil -- by 3.69 million barrels to 332.4 million -- and of distillates, a class of products that includes heating oil, which fell by 2.95 million barrels to 164.4 million.
Analysts attributed the lower crude supply mostly to reduced imports because of interrupted shipping due to fog in the Gulf of Mexico. "We have had plenty of weather here that held up ships," said Andy Lipow, president of Houston consulting company Lipow Oil Associates Llc.
Stephen Schork, editor of the industry newsletter The Schork Report, attributed the heating oil supply declines to last week's cold weather in this region, and he noted forecasters predict more cold in coming weeks. But both men noted the Energy Department report also showed heating oil supplies well above those of a year ago.
The department's report also said gasoline inventories last week rose from the previous week and a year earlier, while demand fell from the previous week and a year earlier. "I think sufficient supplies and weak demand should keep prices tame . . . into the new year," Schork said.
Iran's missile test raises the possibility of sanctions against that nation that could impact its oil output.
With Bloomberg News