It has happened.
By Richard Valdmanis 18 minutes ago
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices surged nearly two dollars a barrel on Wednesday after a U.S. government report ignited concerns that strong demand and a spate of refinery problems could trigger a crunch in gasoline stockpiles.
The gains came against the backdrop of rising tensions in the energy-rich Middle East, after the United States closed its diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia this week due to the threat of attacks by militants.
U.S. light sweet crude futures soared $1.93 to $65.00 a barrel, the highest on record. London Brent jumped $2.08 to new peak of $64.06 a barrel.
A U.S. government report issued on Wednesday showed crude stockpiles in the world's biggest energy consumer rose last week by 2.8 million barrels, due to hefty imports and slower refining activity.
But the report from the Energy Information Administration also showed a 2.1 million barrel decline in gasoline stockpiles due to strong demand and slower domestic production -- bringing inventories 7.9 million barrels, or 3.7 percent, below last year's level.
"Gasoline inventories are of greater concern, but the draw was smaller than in previous weeks, and we don't have that much time left in the driving season," said Timothy Evans, senior analyst at IFR Energy Services.
U.S. gasoline demand has been running at a robust 1.4 percent higher than a year ago over the past four weeks, despite record high retail prices at the pumps -- a sign the economy is holding up against soaring energy costs.
While crude prices are running at their highest on record in nominal terms, when adjusted for inflation they remain below their 1980 height over $82.
Crude oil producers and refiners have struggled to keep up with demand growth over the past two years, reducing the cushion of spare capacity needed to make up for any sudden shortfall.
Worries over that scenario grew this week when the United States temporarily shut its missions in Saudi Arabia because of a security threat in the world's top oil exporter and
OPEC's second biggest producer
Iran pressed ahead with its nuclear work in defiance of the
OPEC producer nations, which control about 40 percent of the world's oil exports, have been pumping at their highest levels in decades in an effort to cool prices.
Venezuela's oil minister said Wednesday the cartel has done all it can to boost oil supply, but global prices will probably hold at their current levels.
"We have said that this is a structural issue, not a short-term factor, and the price is going to stay the same," Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters during a visit to Uruguay.
On Tuesday, OPEC President Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah of Kuwait blamed refinery bottlenecks for record oil prices.
Adding to gains Wednesday, BP said its Schiehallion North Sea oilfield would be down until the end of the month as it repairs fire damage. Unplanned closures and scheduled maintenance have cut around 10 percent of North Sea output in August.
In the United States, where refinery problems have pushed gasoline prices to historic highs, BP said it had shut a unit at its Texas City refinery.
U.S. gasoline futures struck a record Wednesday of $1.8990 a gallon.