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Oil prices edge higher as market watches refinery woes

Oil prices rose in Asian trading Tuesday as traders watched ongoing refinery woes and weighed uncertainties over whether U.S. gasoline inventories can meet summer driving demand.

Light, sweet crude for June rose 17 cents to US$62.63 on the New York Mercantile Exchange midday in Singapore. The contract gained 9 cents to settle at $62.46 a barrel Monday.

Brent crude contract for June delivery rose 17 cents to US$67 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

With refinery outages reported a large Preem facility in Sweden, and a quickly resolved problem at a Valero Energy Corp. refinery in Texas last week, analysts are concerned that gasoline supplies, though rising, won't meet the peak demand of the U.S. summer driving season, which begins at the end of May.

Unplanned outages and scheduled maintenance at refineries, sluggish imports and strong demand have plagued gasoline stocks since early February. At least a dozen additional partial shutdowns have occurred in the U.S. and internationally that cut refining capacity.

Violence in Nigeria have also lifted oil prices. Six gunmen wearing military fatigues seized a Nigerian staff member of the Italian oil company Agip on Monday.

Chevron Corp. temporarily shut down some operations in Nigeria's offshore waters Friday as the second-largest U.S. oil company scrambled to protect its workers and equipment from violence.

Traders are also watching U.S. government data for the week ended May 11 which is expected to show U.S. gasoline inventories rise by an average of 900,000 barrels, according to a Dow Jones Newswires survey. Distillate stocks, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, were likely to grow by 1.2 million barrels on average.

"The expectation is that refinery utilization should increase, and that the majority of the increase would be weighted toward production of gasoline," said Brad Samples, an analyst at Summit Energy, noting that gasoline-producing units have been "down the most" amid a recent spate of refinery outages.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures gained 0.32 cent to US$1.8700 a gallon (3.8 liters) while natural gas prices fell 6.8 cents to US$7.884 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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