Oil prices steady as Egypt protests continue


NEW YORK – A key oil benchmark held above $101 per barrel Tuesday and will likely push crude prices higher for many refineries, including those serving the East Coast. Yet experts think gasoline prices won’t rise immediately, because harsh winter weather is keeping many drivers off the road.

Average gasoline prices dropped about a penny during the past week to a national average of $3.101 a gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.

“It’s been an awful winter, definitely not inspiring people to go out and drive,” said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service.

A gallon of gasoline is 2.8 cents higher than a month ago and 43.2 cents higher than the same time last year. Kloza said prices will climb to between $3.50 and $3.75 per gallon by March.

Oil prices were little changed Tuesday as investors waited to see the outcome of the largest anti-government protest yet in Egypt. Prices climbed over the past week amid concerns that the turmoil in Egypt could close the Suez Canal, a major route for oil tankers to Europe and North America, or spread to neighboring oil-rich countries.

More than a quarter-million people flooded Cairo’s main square Tuesday in the latest — and largest — protest during a week of unrelenting demands for President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation after nearly 30 years in power. Similar demonstrations took place in five other cities around Egypt.

Brent crude rose 85 cents to $101.86 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Brent, which can be shipped to refineries around the world, affects crude prices in most coastal markets, including the U.S. East Coast. It’s used to price oil in Asia, where demand is growing fast, and in Europe, where a cold winter has increased demand for heating oil.

Analysts say Brent crude is one of the best reflections of global oil demand.

On Monday, Brent passed $100 a barrel for the first time since October 2008 and traded as high as $101.73. It has been trading close to $100 since the beginning of the year.

In the U.S., benchmark West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, crude for March delivery fell 56 cents to $91.63 a barrel in afternoon trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The price rose 8 percent over the previous two sessions.

In other Nymex trading for March delivery, heating oil added a penny at $2.7550 per gallon, gasoline futures climbed 3 cents to $2.5253 per gallon, and natural gas lost 5 cents at $4.367 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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