) -- Crude oil prices held below the $80-a-barrel level during Wednesday's session, as investors weighed weekly drops in crude and gasoline supplies with inventories that are still at the upper limit of the average for this time of year.

December crude futures climbed as high as $80.33 a barrel on the same day that the Energy Information Administration said inventories fell 0.9 million barrels, or 0.3%, from the previous week. A weaker U.S. dollar, which makes oil and other dollar-priced commodities more attractive to foreign buyers, also contributed the slight rise in crude prices from Tuesday's settle at $79.14 a barrel.

Prices, however, struggled to remain above $80 and settled Wednesday's session up by 44 cents at $79.58 a barrel. Gasoline and distillate stocks also fell during the week -- down by 1.7 million barrels and 328,000 barrels, respectively -- but are still well above last year's levels. According to the U.S. Energy Department figures, gasoline supplies are 5.3% higher than a year ago and distillate fuel oil stocks are a whopping 27.9% higher than in 2008. The EIA's inventory report showed supply draw-downs that were much more modest than those reported by the

American Petroleum Institute late Tuesday

, but exceeded analysts' expectations for a slight build in stocks.

Elsewhere in energy markets, December gasoline rose 0.3% to $2.0114 a gallon, December heating oil lost 0.5% to $2.0486 a gallon and December natural gas lost 6.1% to $4.254 per million British thermal units.

In equity markets, integrated oil companies saw a mixed session on Wednesday with


(COP) - Get Report

, and

Marathon Oil

(MRO) - Get Report

closing down by 0.2% and 0.6%, respectively. Meanwhile,


(CVX) - Get Report



(XOM) - Get Report



(HES) - Get Report

, ended higher by 0.1%, 0.3% and 0.7%.


Written by Melinda Peer in New York