U.S., Global Oil Benchmarks Waver but End Little Changed

By Christian BerthelsenDow Jones Newswires

NEW YORK--Oil prices fluctuated Tuesday in response to a range of U.S. and international factors, including continued geopolitical tensions over the Ukraine and cleanup efforts from an oil spill in a major U.S. shipping channel, but ended the day little changed.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery ended the day down 41 cents, or 0.4%, at $99.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude for May delivery, which gauges global oil prices, rose 18 cents, or 0.2%, to $106.99 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange.

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Nymex crude, the benchmark for U.S. oil prices, had been ticking higher in morning trade but turned negative after the U.S. Coast Guard partially re-opened the Houston Ship Channel, three days after a barge collision spilled as much as 170,000 gallons of oil and blocked as many as 140 ships from using the passage.

The waterway links refineries with the Gulf of Mexico, a key access point for the domestic crude business. The channel reopened Tuesday afternoon and ships will be able to move in and out during daylight hours. The backlog of ships waiting to pass through the channel fell to 25 by late Tuesday afternoon, according to Genscape, a provider of real-time data on physical commodity supplies.

Brent futures rose as Russia was kicked out of the elite G8 global leadership group and Western nations imposed economic sanctions on sectors including energy and banking in response to its actions in the Ukraine.

"Oil is just fluctuating in response to myriad items here," analyst Jim Ritterbusch said.

Analysts are expecting another increase in domestic oil inventories in data released Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with a consensus estimate of 2.8 million barrels, according to a survey of analysts by The Wall Street Journal. Crude stockpiles have risen as refineries have reduced operations during spring maintenance season.

Reformulated gasoline blendstock, or RBOB, for May delivery settled down 0.8 cent at $2.8828 a gallon. May diesel settled up 1 cent at $2.9215 a gallon.