NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Friday after a report that the International Energy Agency is likely to tap strategic oil reserves as soon as September, dropping its resistance to a U.S.-led plan.
U.S. crude losses were limited because of the threat to Gulf of Mexico production from Tropical Storm Isaac and that potential supply disruption prompted selling of Brent positions and buying of U.S. crude, brokers said.
The IEA, whose chief recently dismissed the need for a release, is now thought to have agreed to the idea, the industry journal Petroleum Economist said, citing unnamed sources.
Reuters reported last week that the White House had begun “dusting off” previous plans for a possible release from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve because it fears that the sharp rise in oil prices since June could undermine the effect of sanctions on Iran.
“Oil prices declined on word of a change of heart at the IEA on a coordinated release of global SPR barrels. The market has been very sensitive to speculation over a release, which, if it were to occur, would work to lower prices for a time,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.
Tropical Storm Isaac took aim at flood-prone Haiti on Friday and was expected to become a hurricane when it churns into the Gulf of Mexico early next week, on a path that could see it make landfall anywhere from New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle.
BP Plc (BP.L) said it was shutting production at its Thunder Horse oil and gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico, the world’s largest, and other producers began storm preparations and evacuating nonessential personnel.
Another potential threat to supply looms after Norwegian oil services workers broke off wage talks with oil companies on Friday, taking the sector a step closer to its second strike within two months and leaving government mediation as the next formal step in the dispute.
Brent October crude fell $1.42 to settle at $113.95 a barrel, having dropped to $113 after reaching $115.28.
Brent fell 12 cents on the week, snapping a string of three straight weekly gains.
Sensitivity to an upcoming maintenance-related drop in North Sea production and ongoing Middle East turmoil helped Brent hit a three-month peak at $117.03 on August 16, as the September contract expired and went off the board at $116.90 a barrel, the highest settlement since May 2.
Brent has recovered from a low of $88.49 posted on June 22 after retreating from the 2012 peak at $128.40 hit on March 1.
On Friday, U.S. October crude fell only 12 cents to settle at $96.15 a barrel, having swung from $95.41 to $97.17, either side of the 200-day moving average of $96.75.
U.S. crude managed a 14-cent weekly gain, its fourth straight rise. Prices have recovered after sliding below $78 a barrel in late June.
Brent’s premium to U.S. crude fell to $17.44 a barrel, but increased to $19.09 before pulling back.
Total crude trading volumes were lethargic, with U.S. crude dealings less than 400,000 lots traded and 24 percent under the 30-day average. Brent outpaced U.S. turnover, but was just under its 30-day average.
Money managers raised their net long U.S. crude futures and options positions in the week to August 21, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said in a report on Friday.
U.S. gasoline and heating oil futures fell back, even with the potential for weather-related refinery disruptions along the Gulf Coast next week.
For a 24-hr chart analysis on U.S. crude:
For a 24-hr chart analysis on Brent:
Oil had a muted reaction to another round of inconclusive talks between the United Nations nuclear agency and Iran.
The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency said important differences remain with Iran after Friday talks about Tehran’s nuclear program and that there were no plans at this stage for further meetings.
Iran’s envoy said the talks made some progress, but differences remained.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of making “accelerated progress towards achieving nuclear weapons”, adding that it was “totally ignoring” Western demands to rein in its atomic program.
The violent conflict in Syria continued to send refugees fleeing the country.
Additional reporting by Gene Ramos in New York, Alex Lawler in London, and Ramya Venugopal and Wang Tao in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson, Marguerita Choy, David Gregorio and Leslie Gevirtz