Oil Prices Waver as Traders Weigh Output Against Major Pipeline Outage

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Gasoline stocks rose by 2.3 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.5 million-barrel gain. The halt to the Forties pipeline because of a crack caused Brent to touch a two-year high during the week, pulling the US benchmark with it. On Wednesday morning, its operator said it was still considering fix options and reiterated that any repairs would take several weeks.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the oil market to have a surplus of 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the first half of next year before reverting to a deficit of about 200,000 bpd in the second half.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 were at $58.38 a barrel, up 39 cents, or 0.7 percent, from their last settlement.

Brent crude was up 58 cents at $63.92 a barrel by 1319 GMT. The global benchmark crude traded at a premium of $5.59 February WTI.

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"We can confirm that formal force majeure has been declared on relevant contracts and we continue to work closely with our customers during this period, as well as local communities, government and other stakeholders". That's the first time in almost 30 years that such a condition has been declared in the North Sea, according to Gary Ross, founder of PIRA Energy, now part of S&P Global Platts.

"Brent crude raced higher ... as news broke that the North Sea's Forties Pipeline system would have to be shut down for a "number of weeks" after a hairline crack was found in it", said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore. "The IEA report wasn't overwhelmingly negative" and the non-OPEC supply forecast "is not set in stone". Preliminary weekly data suggests that US production increased further into early December.

In its monthly oil market report, the Paris-based IEA said that U.S. drilling and well completion had risen in relation to rising prices of crude.

The IEA pointed out that inventories in developed nations have fallen to their lowest level since July 2015; but in noting that USA crude output next year would climb by 870,000 barrels per day (bpd), up from its November forecast of 790,000 bpd, the agency stated, "On our current outlook, 2018 may not necessarily be a happy New Year for those who would like to see a tighter market; total supply growth could exceed demand growth".

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