Updated from 12:50 p.m. EDT
Crude oil prices bounced around Thursday, finishing with a small gain, after closing just shy of a record high Wednesday.
The December futures contract added 6 cents to end at $54.47 in regular floor trading on the Nymex. The November contract, which expired yesterday, ended at $54.92, a penny shy of its record close. The all-time intraday high is $55.33, set last week.
Traders remain concerned about supplies of heating oil ahead of the winter season, after inventory reports showed another weekly decline in the distillates category.
Oil prices have hit record highs on almost a daily basis in the past month, following a major disruption to U.S. production in the Gulf of Mexico from Hurricane Ivan.
Prices are up about 70% this year amid unusually strong global demand and a variety of nagging market worries about the possible disruption of supplies from such major producers as Iraq, Russia, Nigeria and Venezuela.
OPEC has increased its official production ceiling three times, for a total increase of 3.5 million barrels a day, since July in an effort to cool supply concerns and what some say is rampant market speculation.