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Oil Soars to Near $65

The June light sweet crude contract gains $2.31 to $64.86 a barrel.

Soaring demand for gasoline sent energy futures higher Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, including a gain of more than 3% for oil.

The June light sweet crude contract advanced $2.31 to $64.86 a barrel. Reformulated gasoline climbed 10 cents to $2.44 a gallon, and heating oil was up 7 cents at $1.94 a gallon.

The near-term natural gas contract was 19 cents better at $8.08 per million British thermal units.

AAA, the motor club, forecast that car travel over Memorial Day weekend -- the start of the summer driving season in the U.S. -- will increase 1.8% from last year despite the fact that gasoline is selling at record-high prices.

The announcement helped lift gasoline futures 4%. Still, there remains no sign that escalating gasoline prices are making a dent in demand for motor fuel.

U.S. refineries are continuing to report mechanical problems or scheduled maintenance, which may further drag down utilization rates and restrict gasoline supplies. A


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refinery in Borger, Texas, will go offline for upkeep later this week and won't be restarted until the end of June, a move that will affect 146,000 barrels a day of production.


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said Wednesday that it's cutting 64,000 barrels of daily output from its Sweeny, Texas, refinery for a week due to mechanical problems.

Elsewhere, violence in Nigeria escalated again when gunmen attacked and destroyed the house of vice president-elect Goodluck Jonathan. He wasn't injured. A specific rebel group has yet to take credit for the attack.

According to Dennis Gartman, publisher of

The Gartman Letter

, rebel groups have promised to continue their raids on oil facilities in the Nigerian delta region at least until the handover of presidential power on May 29.

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However, the violence may not be having as much of an impact on oil production there as many think. The most recent monthly supply report published by the International Energy Agency showed that Nigeria's output for April was 2.25 million barrels a day, while their quota allocated by OPEC was just 2.04 million barrels.

"Nigeria's starting point going into the May month was an excess of capacity, providing room for a reduction without seriously affecting real global supply levels," said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citigroup Global Markets.

Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration released natural gas inventory figures for the week ended May 11 that were mostly in line with analyst estimates. Natural gas stores rose 95 billion cubic feet during the week, while analysts had forecasted an increase of 97 billion.

Energy stocks surged on the back of rising commodity prices. The

CBOE Oil Index

climbed 1.6% to 713.

ConocoPhillips moved 2.5% higher to $73.25, and


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edged up 0.9% to $81.46.

Exxon Mobil

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gained 0.4% at $81.80.

On the research front, Wachovia upgraded

CMS Energy

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to outperform from market perform, lifting it 1.4% to $18.53.