DUBAI: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures slipped on Wednesday, reversing course from early gains after a US official said the country was still considering tools to lower energy prices, and as government data pointed to weaker gasoline demand.
Also pressuring oil prices, a new coronavirus variant triggered fresh travel restrictions that could dampen oil demand. Also, an OPEC+ document showed the group lifting its forecast for an oil surplus in the new year.
WTI US crude futures were down 51 cents, or 0.76 percent, at $65.77 a barrel at 1:49 p.m. ET (1849 GMT). During the session, they were up as much as 4 percent.
Global benchmark Brent crude was down 24 cents, or 0.36 percent, at $68.99 a barrel.
US Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk said the Biden administration could adjust the timing of its planned release of strategic crude oil stockpiles if global energy prices drop substantially.
He added that the White House was still studying proposals from Democratic lawmakers to ban crude oil exports to keep US prices down.
US gasoline stocks rose 4 million barrels last week to 215.4 million barrels, government data showed, far surpassing analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for 29,000-barrel rise. Distillate stockpiles increased 2.2 million barrels to 123.9 million barrels, versus expectations for a 462,000-barrel build.
Crude inventories fell 910,000 barrels in the week, data showed, compared with forecasts for a 1.2 million-barrel drop.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries concluded its meeting without a decision on whether to release more oil into the market.
The OPEC+ alliance, which includes Russia and other producers, will likely take a policy decision on Thursday. Reports and analysts suggested that expectations were growing that the group will take a pause due to the threat from a new virus variant.
“There is much to suggest that OPEC+ will not initially step up its oil production any further in an effort to maintain current prices at around $70/bbl,” PVM analyst Stephen Brennock said.
OPEC+ sees the oil surplus growing to 2 million barrels per day (bpd) in January, 3.4 million bpd in February and 3.8 million bpd in March next year, an internal report seen by Reuters showed.
Several OPEC+ ministers, though, have said there is no need to change course. But even if OPEC+ agrees to go ahead with its planned supply increase in January, producers may struggle to add that much.
Both Brent and WTI front-month contracts in November posted their steepest monthly falls in percentage terms since March 2020, down 16 percent and 21 percent respectively.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs called the decline in oil prices “excessive,” saying “the market has far overshot the likely impact of the latest variant on oil demand with the structural repricing higher due to the dramatic change in the oil supply reaction function still ahead of us.”