Updated from 2:25 p.m. EST
Energy prices rose Wednesday as problems at North American refineries affected the supply of refined products and as the deadline for Iran to abide by a U.N. resolution to halt its nuclear research loomed.
The April contract for light, sweet crude ended the trading day up $1.23 to $60.07 a barrel at the New York Mercantile Exchange. The March contract has expired.
The April contract for natural gas finished up 3 cents at $7.65 per million British thermal units. Heating oil added 2 cents to close at $1.68 a gallon, and gasoline gained 3 cents, finishing at $1.70 a gallon.Refinery outages are generating some concern over the energy sector's ability to change its focus from winter heating oil to refined products such as gasoline, according to Tom Bentz, energy analyst at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures in New York. A fire shut in Valero's (VLO - Get Report) McKee refinery in Sunray, Texas, on Friday. Valero now says it won't attempt a restart for several weeks. The refinery produces roughly 160,000 barrels a day, 54,000 barrels of which are refined products. Last week, a fire also struck Imperial Oil's (IMO) Nanticoke refinery in Canada, causing a gasoline shortage in the Ontario region. Regardless of the refinery issues, the current inventories of gasoline and other refined products in the U.S. are "comfortable," according to Bentz. Geopolitical tensions around the globe are also keeping energy prices somewhat elevated. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised Wednesday to continue to pursue uranium enrichment regardless of the possibility of a reaction by the international community. Today is the deadline for Iran to demonstrate to the U.N. that it's acting upon its resolution calling for a stoppage.