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Oil Rises Slightly on Pipeline Fire

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JOHN WILEN | November 29, 2007 04:04 PM EST | AP

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NEW YORK — Oil futures eked out a small gain Thursday, rebounding from two days of sharp declines after a fire at a pipeline serving the Midwest raised new supply concerns.

The fire late Wednesday along the Enbridge Energy Partners LP Lakehead pipeline in northern Minnesota, which carries crude oil from Saskatchewan to the Chicago area, killed two repair workers. After a brief shutdown, most of the pipeline was quickly returned to service and the fire-damaged section was expected to be back up in days.

An offer by the government to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed, helped calm markets.

Light, sweet crude for January delivery rose 39 cents to settle at $91.01 a barrel in choppy trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but that was down from an overnight spike of $95.17 on early reports of the fire. The gain followed a two-day downturn on concerns about weakening economic growth and a view that supplies are on the rise.

The Enbridge pipeline actually consists of four separate conduits. After the fire, all were shut down for a while, but two carrying a total of 680,000 barrels of crude a day were restarted Thursday morning, said Larry Springer, a spokesman for Houston-based Enbridge.

A third line, designed to carry 700,000 barrels a day of heavy crude, was not damaged by the fire and reopened later Thursday, the company said. The fire-damaged line, which can carry 420,000 barrels of crude a day, could be repaired and returned to service within two or three days, it said.

That appeared to make a government offer to release oil from the nation's strategic reserve unnecessary, though analysts said the offer did help quell initial concerns about a shortage.

"It reminded people that there actually is a Strategic Petroleum Reserve and that it's not necessarily in a total lockbox," said Tim Evans, an analyst at Citigroup Inc. in New York.

The four Enbridge pipelines together have a capacity of about 1.8 million barrels of crude a day, but the pipelines actually carry an average of about 1.7 million barrels of crude a day, Enbridge officials said during a conference call with reporters. That's about 16 percent of U.S. crude imports and 8.3 percent of total domestic oil consumption.

Traders are likely to return their focus to OPEC, which is expected to decide next week whether to increase production. Several Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries ministers in recent days have said the cartel is ready to boost output to bring prices down.

Economic news on Thursday included reports that the White House cut its growth forecasts for next year, housing prices dropped in the third quarter for the first time in 13 years and gross domestic product growth, while strong in the third quarter, is expected to fall in the fourth quarter.

Energy investors worry that a slowing economy will demand less gasoline and oil.

Other energy futures were mixed Thursday. December gasoline futures fell 1.09 cents to settle at $2.2648 a gallon on the Nymex, but December heating oil rose 0.33 cent to settle at $2.5771 a gallon.

Natural gas for January delivery fell 3.4 cents to settle at $7.452 per 1,000 cubic feet after the government reported that inventories fell last week by 12 billion cubic feet, less than analysts had expected.

In London, January Brent crude rose 41 cents to settle at $90.22 a barrel on the ICE futures exchange.

At the pump, meanwhile, the price of gas was unchanged overnight at a national average of $3.096 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.

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Associated Press writer Pablo Gorondi, in Budapest, and AP Business Writers Josh Freed in Minneapolis, Dan Caterinicchia in Washington and Thomas Hogue in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.