Oil tops $105 per barrel

NEW YORK (AP) — Oil prices pushed above $105 per barrel Tuesday, as traders focused on a series of international crises that could tighten global supplies at a time when consumption is expected to increase.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery rose $1.88 to settle at $104.97 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. At one point it was as high as $105.18. In London, Brent crude gained 73 cents to settle at $115.64 per barrel.

Energy economists continued to gauge how recent unrest in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria will affect exports from a region that produces 27 percent of the world’s oil. Libya, which sits on the largest oil reserves in Africa, has almost totally stopped petroleum shipments as rebels battle pro-Gadhafi troops. The addition of international forces, including the U.S., could mean that the country will be embroiled in a protracted conflict that will keep oil fields offline much longer than previously expected, energy experts said.

Retail gasoline prices in the U.S. held steady on Tuesday at a national average of $3.547 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. They’re still the highest ever for this time of year. A gallon of regular has jumped 37.9 cents in the last month and is 72.7 cents more expensive than a year ago.

OPIS gasoline analyst Fred Rozell said gasoline prices may continue to rise this spring to a national average of $3.75 per gallon. “With everything happening around the world, we’re not going to see prices fly backward anytime soon,” Rozell said.

Demand for oil and gas should rise as the U.S. and global economies continue to recover. China shows little sign of reducing its thirst for petroleum. Platts reports that China’s oil demand in February rose 10.1 percent from a year ago, to the second strongest level on record. It hit an all-time high in December. China is the world’s second biggest oil consumer behind the U.S.

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