Petrol in US may have reached annual peak

US petrol at the pump may have reached its annual peak the earliest in 14 years, amid rising oil supply, easing Middle East tensions and the takeover of refineries that were threatened by closure.

Prices have slipped 15.1c to $3.79 (€2.90) a gallon (about €0.75 a litre) since reaching a 2012 high of $3.941 on Apr 2, according to the energy department.

The department said prices peaked in April and will average $3.79 a gallon this summer.

Oil fell below $100 a barrel to a three-month low in New York as inventories climbed to a 21-year high and production jumped to the most since 1999.

The declines mean consumers are getting relief at the pump before the driving season that starts over the Memorial Day weekend of May 26-28, while benefiting President Barack Obama in the run-up to the US election.

Republicans say that Obama’s policies have contributed to higher fuel costs at a time when job growth is slowing.

“It’s safe to say we may have dodged a bullet here and we have paid the dearest prices already for the year,” said Stephen Schork, president of the Schork Group, an energy-advisory firm in Villanova, Pennsylvania, in a telephone interview.

“Crude has been drifting steadily lower since the end of February and you have the double whammy of poor economic headlines and the easing of concerns about refinery capacity,” he added.

Crude oil in New York is down 12% from its close of $109.77 a barrel on Feb 24 and Brent crude in London has fallen 11 % from a Mar 13 high of $126.22.

Gasoline futures have lost 12 % since reaching a 2012 high of $3.4166 a gallon on Mar 26.

Crude inventories climbed to 379.5m barrels in the week ended May 4, the most since Aug 1990, Energy Department data show.

Supplies in Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for the Nymex contract, were a record 44.1m.

Refiners in the US are benefiting from the highest domestic crude production since Feb 1999.

Valero Energy Corp Chief Executive Bill Klesse said on May 3 the San Antonio-based refiner’s increased use of Eagle Ford crude at its Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, plants helps cut the cost of importing oil. “We save freight and that’s a cost that gets passed on to the consumer,” he said in an interview after the firm’s annual meeting.

“That’s why you’ve probably seen gas prices peak this year, because all this oil is coming and coming,” he said.

Gasoline futures which had carried an additional premium because of concern that refinery shutdowns would tighten supplies, also have fallen as refineries on the East Coast and in Europe get new owners with plans to keep them in operation.

A Vitol Group venture has agreed to buy Petroplus Holdings AG’s refinery in Switzerland as Gunvor Group prepared to start operations at the Antwerp plant in Belgium acquired from Petroplus.

European refiners are the largest source of gasoline imports into New York Harbour, the delivery point for the Nymex futures contract.

Delta Air Lines subsidiary Monroe Energy LLC said on Apr 30 it agreed to buy Phillips 66’s idled Trainer, Pennsylvania, refinery.

Sunoco, which agreed to a takeover by Energy Transfer Partners LP on Apr 30, extended the deadline to idle or find a buyer for its Philadelphia plant until the end of July.

Sunoco is in talks with Carlyle Group LP.

By Jun 24, gasoline and crude oil futures slid 20% from their Apr 29 highs after US troops killed Osama bin Laden and the International Energy Agency said it would release 60m barrels of oil from strategic reserves.

— Bloomberg

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