NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brent October crude futures fell 1 percent on Friday on talk of a possible release of U.S. strategic petroleum reserves and expectations that North Sea output will rebound after maintenance curbs production in September.
Front-month U.S. September crude showed resilience, edging up in choppy trade, but gasoline and heating oil futures fell sharply in tandem with Brent’s decline.
After the Brent September contract expired on Thursday, October Brent pared gains in post-settlement trading on news the White House was “dusting off old plans” for a potential release of strategic oil stocks.
Brent bounced off lows on Friday when the head of the International Energy Agency said oil markets were currently well supplied and there was no reason for governments to release oil from strategic reserves.
The bounce left Brent on pace for a third straight weekly gain, needing to settle above $112.95 a barrel, while U.S. crude closed in on a 3 percent weekly increase.
Escalating geopolitical tensions over Syria’s civil conflict and the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, along with North Sea production curbs and hopes that central banks will provide more stimulus, had combined to pull Brent up since it settled at $89.23 a barrel on June 21.
“The market moved a long way in quite a short time and we are now seeing some profit-taking,” said Eugen Weinberg, global head of commodities research at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
Weinberg said reports of a potential reserve stocks releases could prompt investors to sell long positions, lowering prices.
Brent October crude was down $1.29 at $113.98 a barrel by 1:19 p.m. EDT (1719 GMT), after falling to $112.70 intraday.
U.S. September crude was up 29 cents at $95.89 a barrel in choppy trading, having reached $95.96, the highest intraday price since May 11.
Britain’s energy ministry said it was ready to ask the IEA to take action to deal with high oil prices, but neither it nor its partners had made any decision to release stocks.
France and the United States are in contact on recent price rises and are studying all options, an official at the offices of President Francois Hollande said on Friday when asked about a possible release of strategic oil reserves.
Japan and South Korea saw no need yet for a release from reserves, government sources said on Friday.
Amid all this downplaying of the need for a reserves release, European governments are on a buying spree for crude and oil products in order to meet new European Union (EU) rules designed to mitigate the effect of a supply crisis.
An EU embargo on Iranian crude oil is in its second month, as the dispute between the West and Iran over its nuclear program drags on.
Also curbing oil’s push higher, Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday came out against any go-it-alone attack on Iran, saying he trusted U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge to prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons.
Peres’ comments appeared to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who have raised the prospect of a unilateral strike.
But oil prices continue to find support from turmoil in Syria and the surrounding region. Refugees are fleeing Syria in ever greater numbers, U.N. agencies said on Friday, as the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels intensifies.
A series of bombings and shootings killed more than 70 people across OPEC-member Iraq on Thursday, as a stubborn insurgency continued.
Additional reporting by Christopher Johnson in London and Manash Goswami and Elizabeth Law in Singapore; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Dale Hudson and Jim Marshall