Oil steady near $71 as sanctions and protests stoke risk

Brent crude futures, the global benchmark for oil prices, were at $78.30 per barrel up 7 cents from their last close and not far off a three-and-a-half year high of $78.53 a barrel reached the previous session, U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $71.02 a barrel, up 6 cents and also not far off their November 2014 high of $71.89 a barrel reached last week, Reuters reported.

"Saudi Arabia appears to be focusing more on pushing up crude higher rather than restoring the balance in oil's supply and demand, and that is underpinning prices".

The supply is greater in the United States were production has now seen a large increase in production bringing the total of barrels produced per day to 10.7m.

The pending USA sanctions against Iran have also contributed to the price rise. "Brent is pricing in the idea that all the risk to supplies is overseas - there's a concern that all the supplies that are tight in Europe are only going to get tighter".

It's certainly not the first time a member made the statement, but apparently Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui, oil minister for the United Arab Emirates thought it was worth repeating when he told delegates to an industry event in Abu Dhabi that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is focusing on inventory rather than targeting a specific oil price.

The United States last week withdrew from an worldwide nuclear accord with Iran and announced renewed sanctions against the country.

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The tightening market has all but eliminated a global supply overhang which depressed crude prices between late 2014 and early 2017. High oil prices and low finding cost in the region which has relatively shallow wells help drive exploration in the farm belt where an average well produces 40-50 barrels-a-day over a 15-20 year life span.

During the week from April 28 to May 4, the API reported a draw of 1.85 million barrels of crude oil. As the dollar strengthens, investors can retreat from dollar-denominated commodities like oil.

It remains unclear how hard US sanctions will hit Iran's oil industry.

OPEC, for its part, estimated that the excess oil inventories in the OECD had shrunk to just 9 million barrels.

U.S. shale oil production is expected to rise by about 145,000 bpd to a record 7.18 million bpd in June, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Monday.

US crude is trading at a hefty discount to Brent, the worldwide marker, thanks to sharp rises in USA production to 10.7 million bpd, which has left the American domestic oil market well supplied.