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Iran Tension Lifts Oil

Crude prices climbed for the third consecutive session in New York Friday on news of increased instability in the Middle East and higher gasoline prices in domestic markets.

The May contract for light sweet crude oil climbed 59 cents to $62.28 a barrel. Reformulated gasoline edged 3 cents higher to $1.99 a gallon, but heating oil slipped a penny to $1.71 a gallon.

Natural gas fell 3 cents to $7.29 per million British thermal unit.

Energy futures were rattled in early trading on news that 15 British Navy sailors were detained at gunpoint by Iranian soldiers while they were boarding an Iranian cargo ship. The British Foreign Ministry says that its sailors were operating in Iraqi territorial waters, but Iran insisted they were in Iranian waters.

Iraq and Iran have long been involved in a territorial dispute over the waters separating the two countries.

Crude oil prices climbed 4.1% this week. The increase was caused by tight oil product supplies, according to Jason Schenker, economist at Wachovia. The Energy Information Administration released new gasoline inventory figures on Wednesday that were more bullish than analysts had expected.

The futures curve for reformulated gasoline is currently inverted, with near-term prices sitting higher than prices for contracts further out. This suggests that recent decreases in oil imports and refinery utilization rates are having a detrimental effect on gasoline inventories.

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