Oil, natural gas prices flat


US retail gasoline prices continued their surprising spring slide yesterday, dropping one cent to US$3.83 per gallon (about US$1 a liter).

It's the 10th straight day of declines for the national average retail price. Pump prices are 4 cents-a-gallon lower than they were last year at this time.

Lower fuel costs is good news for President Barack Obama's hopes of winning re-election in November

While in other parts of the world gasoline retails for as much as US$7 or even US$8 a galllon (US$1.85 to US$2.10 a liter), in the US, the size of the country and a less developed network of mass transportation make Americans more dependent on their cars to drive longer distances to work than elsewhere.

Benchmark crude rose slightly yesterday to US$104.55, a gain of 0.4 percent, on expectations that the US economy will continue to grow modestly and that the European debt crisis would not spread further.

Brent crude, which is used by refiners to make most of the gasoline sold in the US, rose 80 cents to US$119.92.

Retail gasoline prices typically rise in the spring and peak for the year in May after US refiners switch to a more expensive summer blend of gasoline that is required to meet clean air rules. Analysts say this year's spring peak may have come early - a relief to drivers show saw prices rise 66 cents from Jan. 1 through the first week of April.

Gasoline prices have fallen from a high of US$3.94 per gallon on April 6 as this year's rise in oil prices has leveled off and US gasoline demand has fallen.

California drivers are paying US$4.18 a gallon (US$1.10 a liter), the highest in the nation outside of Alaska and Hawaii. Drivers in Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia are all still paying more than US$4 per gallon on average, though, according to the Oil Price Information Service, AAA and Wright Express.

Natural gas prices fell at the end of the trading day to US$2.036 per thousand cubic feet, a decline of 3 cents, after spending most of the day in positive territory.

In recent weeks natural gas prices have fallen to their lowest levels since 2002 because a historically warm winter and increased domestic production have boosted the amount of natural gas in storage.

The US government reported yesterday that natural gas in storage rose by 47 billion cubic feet to 2.548 trillion cubic feet for the week ended April 20. That's 56 percent above the five-year average. The report was in line with what analysts expected according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose 3.3 cents to US$3.18 per gallon and wholesale gasoline futures rose 2.8 cents to US$3.183 per gallon.



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