Oil prices rose on Wednesday after fresh industry data showed cold weather had eaten into heating oil inventories in the United States
. The stocks figures rekindled concerns of inadequate winter heating fuel stocks as a bitter Arctic weather front wreaked havoc in the U.S. Midwest and began sweeping northeastwards.
Prices showed little reaction to signs that Iraq was returning to the world crude market and had started loading an Indian-chartered tanker at the port of Mina al-Bakr on the Gulf. London's Brent crude futures firmed 34 cents to $27.40 a barrel while U.S. light crude stood 10 cents higher at $29.78 a barrel.
Iraqi and Indian officials said a vessel chartered by Indian Oil Corp began taking Iraqi crude on board early on Wednesday. It was unclear whether other customers to Baghdad would also get Iraqi crude soon.
Iraq has kept 2.3 million bpd of oil sales on hold since December 1 because of a row over pricing with customers and the United Nations
Baghdad has been demanding a 40-cents per barrel surcharge to its customers to be paid directly into an Iraqi account, side-stepping U.N. controls. Buyers have refused to pay the surcharge, saying paying will be a violation of U.N. sanctions.
An Indian official said the Indian firm ad not paid any surcharge for shipments of Iraqi crude in December. But he did not say whether it had been granted a one-off exemption or whether Baghdad had dropped its demand.
"We're not violating any U.N. sanctions. India will not violate any U.N. sanctions," the official in India told Reuters.
Oil traders had speculated that Iraq might give preferential treatment to India after Iraqi officials
visited New Delhi last month and signed an oil-for-wheat barter deal.
Loading of one million barrels of Basrah Light crude into the vessel Jade marked the end of a 12-day standstill at the export terminal Mina al-Bakr. But no action was seen at the Turkish Mediterranean port Ceyhan, Iraq's second U.N. authorised export outlet. - (Reuters)