Oil prices fall on U.S. inventory build; Libya output ramps up

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil futures fell on Wednesday after Libya said it expects to boost production over the next few months and a report showing a surprise build in U.S. crude inventories last week.

Smoke is released into the sky at a refinery in Wilmington, California March 24, 2012. Picture taken March 24, 2012. REUTERS/Bret Hartman/File Photo - RTX2V7BV

Brent futures for February delivery fell 89 cents, or 1.6 percent, to settle at $54.46 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for February lost 81 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $52.49 per barrel.

Even though WTI futures for February were down, the U.S. front-month gained about 0.5 percent due to the contract roll from lower-priced January to the higher-priced February on Tuesday and closed at its highest level in over a week.

“The big news of the day is that it looks like we’re going to get more crude out of Libya,” said James Williams, president of energy consultant WTRG Economics in Arkansas.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) confirmed on Tuesday that pipelines leading from Sharara and El Feel fields had reopened, saying it hoped to add 270,000 barrels per day (bpd) to national production over the next three months.

“The big question is what will OPEC do about the Libyan increase. With Libya excluded from the production cut agreement, I anticipate the Saudis will unilaterally balance the Libyan crude,” WTRG’s Williams said.

On Nov. 30, OPEC agreed to cut output by 1.2 million bpd for six months from Jan. 1, with top exporter Saudi Arabia cutting around 486,000 bpd. On Dec. 10, non-OPEC countries including Russia agreed to reduce output by 558,000 bpd, the largest-ever contribution by non-OPEC producers.

In the United States, U.S. crude stocks rose by 2.3 million barrels in the week to Dec. 16 even as refineries hiked output, while gasoline stocks and distillate inventories fell, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said. [EIA/S]

That was the first weekly build in crude stockpiles in five weeks. Analysts were expecting U.S. crude inventories to fall by 2.5 million barrels, according to a Reuters poll. [EIA/S]

The EIA report diverged widely from the American Petroleum Institute industry group’s data released late Tuesday, which showed a larger-than-expected 4.1-million-barrel crude draw. [API/S]

Oil markets are expected to remain well-supplied despite the planned OPEC and non-OPEC reductions.

Russia’s 2016 oil output is expected to total 547.5 million tonnes (11 million barrels per day), a 2.5 percent increase from last year, Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters late on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Amanda Cooper in London and Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci