Oil prices set for fourth straight week of gains

US oil output to top record 11 million barrels per day by end of 2019: EIA

Homes that use heating oil will spend an average of $215 or 17 percent more this year than last, and that's assuming a "normal" winter.

Brent crude futures traded 55 cents lower at $68.71 a barrel at 1253 GMT.

Crude oil prices jumped on Wednesday and settled near three-year highs after USA government data showed a drop in crude inventories and production, even as fuel inventories rose. OPEC in December, however, produced about 50,000 barrels per day more than in November.

Crude oil prices are up almost 4 percent in the span of seven trading days in one of the commodity's sharpest rallies in years.

Expectations of another drain on USA crude oil inventories supported a soft increase in oil prices early Tuesday, though a reversal may be overdue.

Though production hasn't been impacted, the protests are widely viewed as reason enough for U.S. President Donald Trump to go against the principles of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - the United Nations -backed Iranian nuclear deal - and decide Friday to re-impose oil-related sanctions on Iran. USA crude oil refinery inputs averaged 17.3 million barrels per day as refineries operated at 95.3% of their operable capacity last week.

The EIA revised its production growth forecast for 2018 sharply higher to 970,000 bpd from 780,000 bpd in its previous outlook.

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US demand growth of 150,000 bpd was estimated for 2017, slightly lower than previous expectations. This price difference is expected to narrow from the $6/b average price difference seen in the fourth quarter of 2017 because current constraints on the capacity to transport crude oil from the Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub (the geographic location associated with the WTI price) to the U.S. Gulf Coast are expected to gradually lessen. Regional summer price spikes can not be precisely predicted.The agency expects gasoline demand in 2018 to total about 9.3 million barrels a day this year, a level that would surpass all-time records set last year.

Some 800,000 bpd of the projected 1.2 million US increase from December 2017 to December 2019 is expected to come from tight rock formations in the Permian region in Texas and New Mexico, the agency said. The EIA anticipates OPEC production to increase by 500,000 b/d in 2019 as it slowly returns to pre-agreement levels.

In the Bakken production is expected to average 1.2 million bpd this year and 1.3 million bpd in 2019, up from 1.1 million bpd in 2017.

Oman Minister of Oil & Gas Mohammed Al Rumhy sees oil prices holding around $65-70/bbl for the next few weeks as the region reduces output by 45K b/d, while Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak warns that ' the market hasn't rebalanced in full ' as Lukoil CEO Vagit Alekperov favors crude stabilizing around $70/bbl.

Analysts say the potential for robust USA production growth will be a challenge to OPEC and other leading oil exporters such as Russian Federation, which have cut production in an effort to eliminate the worldwide glut.

Overall, dry natural gas production averaged 73.6 billion cubic feet per day in 2017, up 1 percent from 2016.

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