High Octane

LONDON, April 20, 2006 (AFP) – World oil prices reached new historic peaks on Thursday, above 74.0 dollars in London and 72.0 dollars in New York, owing to mounting tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and fears of gasoline shortages in the United States. In London, the price of Brent North Sea crude for June delivery struck a record high of 74.22 dollars per barrel.

New York’s benchmark contract for light sweet crude for May delivery hit an all-time peak of 72.49 dollars.

At about 0810 GMT Brent stood at 74.06 dollars, up 33 cents on Wednesday’s close, while New York crude was at 72.41, up 24 cents.

Dealers said a fall in US gasoline stocks exacerbated tension in an energy market already spooked by the prospect of a conflict in Iran, the world’s fourth biggest crude producer, over its alleged programme to develop nuclear weapons.

The US Department of Energy had said Wednesday that US gasoline (petrol) stockpiles fell 5.4 million barrels last week, twice as much as analysts had expected, ahead of the summer driving season.

US crude oil reserves fell 800,000 barrels in the week to April 14 to 345.2 million barrels, surprising analysts who had been expecting a rise of 2.3 million barrels.

The fall in gasoline stocks comes ahead of t