The weekly stocks report showed US crude inventories rising yet again, this time by 1.7 million barrels. As has become normal of late, supplies at Cushing, Okla. fell by 600,000 barrels as oil continued to flow to tanks along the Gulf coast where it hit a record of 215 million barrels. US refinery runs remained stable at 91 percent, but US imports were down by 300,000 b/d from the previous weeks. More analysts are saying that imports have to slow as the country is being overloaded with crude. According to historical records, the last time we had this much crude in inventory was in 1931 during the depth of the depression. The inventory report coupled with the news that the US economy grew by only 0.1 percent in the frigid 1st quarter sent NY futures down to a close of $99.74, the lowest close in nearly a month.
With the Ukrainian crisis in full swing and shipments from Libya still uncertain, London prices only fell by 91 cents on Wednesday to close at $108.07, a gain of 36 cents for the month. The Brent/WTI spread is now up to $8.33. A mixture of Ukrainian separatists and Russian troops in disguise continue to take over facilities in the eastern Ukraine as the West imposes new sanctions on Moscow and argues about which side suffers the most from others. President Putin continues to warn that further sanctions will jeopardize new energy deals, but no one is talking about slowing the underlying flow of Russian oil and gas into the EU.
Natural gas prices rose early in the week on forecasts of colder than normal weather in the northeast and hot weather in the southwest, both of which increase natural gas consumption above normal for the time of year. Prices fell on Wednesday, however, after analysts predicted that the Thursday stocks report will show that the US injected some 75 billion cubic feet into storage last week – 30 percent above normal for the week.
The US Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA can indeed mandate restrictions on power-plant pollution that blows across state lines. The decision affects some 1,000 coal-fired power plants in 28 states, some of which will likely be replaced by natural gas plants in due course.
Iraq’s critical parliamentary elections are underway with at least 50 attacks on polling places taking place during the voting.  Security however, was generally tight with many roads closed to forestall car bombers. After Iraq’s last election it took nearly nine months of number crunching and coalition building to decide who was in charge. Only limited voting took place in Anbar province where insurgents occupy most of the two major cities.
Elsewhere the US announced new actions to enforce the Iran sanctions; the Turks report that Kurds will be allowed to start exporting their oil; the US Congress is expected to cut military aid to Egypt in the wake of the decision to sentence the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and 682 other party members to death for participating in demonstrations against the government; and Tehran has kicked out China’s National Petroleum Corp. due to “lack of commitment” on the Azadegan oil field project.