| GEO Business|
| Crude oil prices rise on inventory report|
| Updated at: 0151 PST, Thursday, June 18, 2009|
NEW YORK: The price of crude climbed above $70 a barrel on Wednesday after a key government report said that U.S. inventories fell for the third straight week.
Benchmark crude for July delivery added 56 cents to settle at $71.03 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Most of the trading already has switched to the August contract, which added 54 cents to settle at $71.70 a barrel.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration report said crude inventories fell 3.9 million barrels last week, or 1.1 percent, to357.7 million barrels.
Despite the drop, U.S. inventories are still bloated with the most oil than they've held in nearly 16 years.
The report also said that gasoline reserves grew 3.4 million barrels, or 1.7 percent, to 205 million barrels.
Demand for gasoline was up 1.1 percent from last year, averaging nearly 9.3 million barrels a day over the four weeks ended June 12,the report said.
Analysts had expected a 1.7 million-barrel drop in crude oil reserves, according to a survey by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.
A reading above or below estimates can influence market trading.
Oil prices this week have come off eight-month highs near $73 a barrel amid some signs that the U.S. economy, while past the worst of a severe recession, is still weak.
They were helped Wednesday by a weakening dollar. Because crude is priced in U.S. currency, oil tends to rise when the dollar falls.
Meanwhile, U.S. retail gas prices climbed for the 50th straight day Wednesday, the longest streak in records dating to 1996.
Pump prices added a half cent overnight to a new national average of $2.679 a gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.
In other Nymex trading, gasoline for July delivery tumbled 3.85cents to settle at $2.0326 a gallon and heating oil added 3.8 cents to settle at $1.863. Natural gas for July delivery gained 12.4 cents to settle at $4.253 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In London, Brent prices added 61 cents to settle at $70.85 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.