Feb. 22 (UPI) -- A mixed report on total U.S. petroleum inventories and word of labor-related issues in OPEC-member Libya helped lift oil prices early Thursday.
Crude oil prices have been moving in volatile territory since pulling back from multi-year highs from early January. A selloff in the equities market spilled over into commodities and some analysts have wondered if the January run above $70 per barrel was being met by a correction.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said this week that, collectively, member states were doing more than they needed to do to erase a market surplus, but acknowledged the strong compliance came from a few overachievers. Total U.S. crude oil production, meanwhile, is offsetting OPEC's effort somewhat with its hold above 10 million barrels per day.
A few hours before the U.S. markets opened, the news service for commodity pricing group S&P Global Platts reported that guards at the El-Feel oil field in Libya, known also as The Elephant, left their posts over payment disputes.
"The entire field has been evacuated," a source close to the National Oil Corp. was quoted as saying.
Platts reported the disruption could spread to the Sharara field, which is producing about 30 percent of Libya's current total.
The price for Brent crude oil, the global benchmark for the price of oil, was up 0.31 percent as of 9:15 a.m. EST to $65.52 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, was up 0.49 percent to $61.98 per barrel.
Markets received mixed signals over the last 24 hours on supply and demand. The American Petroleum Institute reported U.S. crude oil inventories declined by 907,000 barrels, while a survey of analysts by Platts forecasts a build of 2.5 million barrels.
Gasoline inventories, a sign of potential consumer demand, declined 800,000 barrels, according to Platts. Federal U.S. data is expected about an hour after the market opens and will influence the direction of crude oil prices for the rest of the trading session and into Friday morning.
In the U.S. economy, the world's largest, the Labor Department reported first-time claims for unemployment for the week ending Feb. 17 declined 7,000 and the four-week moving average, a less volatile metric, declined 2,250 from the previous week.