Oil prices in Nigeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia fanned fresh supply fears

Oil prices rose Friday as tension in oil-rich Nigeria , Iran and Saudi Arabia fanned fresh supply fears. Light, sweet crude for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 30 cents to US$63.66 a barrel in Asian electronic trading. The contract soared US$1.39 Thursday to settle at US$63.36 a barrel, a three-week high.

April Brent crude futures on London 's ICE Futures exchange gained 43 cents to US$64.50 a barrel. Despite data showing that U.S. commercial petroleum inventories remain well above average levels for this time of year, traders are concerned about threats to oil facilities from Nigerian militants, jitters over Iran's nuclear ambitions and worries about terrorist strikes on oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

About 455,000 barrels a day of Nigerian crude, fifth of the country's output have been held back to global oil markets for almost two weeks after militant assaults on facilities and hostage-taking. The militants said in a statement Wednesday: "We will commence with attacks in another area of the Niger Delta with an aim to ensuring the total discontinuation of export of onshore crude oil."

Analysts see more attacks in the months ahead with Nigerian presidential elections next year and militants making financial and political demands on the government and Western oil companies that are unlikely to be met. In Saudi Arabia , authorities last month foiled an attack on the world's largest oil-processing complex.

Gasoline futures gained 1.05 cents to US$1.7030 a gallon (3.8 liters) while heating oil rose 0.70 cent to US$1.8119 a gallon. Natural gas lost 2 cents to US$6.740 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Meanwhile, European and Iranian negotiators were meeting this week in a new effort to defuse tension over Tehran 's insistence on running a program the U.S. and Europe fear could be used to make nuclear weapons. Iran is the No. 2 producer within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and traders are worried that the political standoff will inhibit oil exports.

The meetings come three days ahead of an International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting. The board's recommendation to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, will likely help determine its immediate course of action on Iran , reports the AP.


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