Oil prices were steady around US$63 a barrel in Asian trading Friday despite a spate of oil-worker kidnappings and attacks in Nigeria's oil-rich delta region.
Light, sweet crude for June delivery slipped 3 cents to US$63.16 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange midmorning in Singapore.
Gunmen in Nigeria, Africa's leading oil exporter, kidnapped at least 21 people in three attacks that left a Nigerian soldier dead, officials and witnesses said Thursday. Nine captives were later reported freed, of whom eight were foreigners.
Unrest has plagued Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta region for years, and in recent months gunmen have stepped up a campaign against the oil industry, blowing up oil pipelines to cut production by a fifth and kidnapping scores of foreign workers.
Analysts said despite the possibility of disruption in crude supplies, the Nigerian unrest is already factored into prices, meaning that traders expect violence in the African nation to be a regular occurrence.
"Crude oil supplies are not an issue for the market," said John Kilduff, an analyst at Man Financial. "While we are not retreating from our overall bullish stance, we do think that the beginning of what may become a significant correction is now under way."
The Nymex crude June contract fell 49 cents to settle at US$63.19 a barrel Thursday after the United States said it would suspend oil purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, intended to be the country's backup oil supply in the event of a severe, unexpected disruption, until at least after the summer driving season.
Heating oil futures gained 0.58 cent to US$1.8511 a gallon (3.8 liters) while natural gas prices rose 2.3 cents to US$7.970 per 1,000 cubic feet.
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