LONDON: Oil prices topped $80 a barrel on Monday as a strike at French energy giant Total and concerns over Iran s nuclear program rattled the market, analysts said.
New York s main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, hit an intra-day high of $80.51 a barrel. It later stood at $80, up 19 cents compared with Friday s close.
Brent North Sea crude for April delivery gained 25 cents to $78.44 at about 1230 GMT.
The sentiment is quite bullish at this time because of the refinery strikes in France and the concerns over Iran s nuclear issues, said Victor Shum, an analyst at Purvin and Gertz energy consultants.
A strike by workers of energy major Total entered its sixth day on Monday.
France s government moved to calm fears of petrol shortages during the open-ended strike at all of oil giant Total s refineries, as families hit the road for the half-term school holiday.
Some French drivers rushed to fill their tanks on Sunday after workers at Total raised the threat of shortages. AFP reporters in towns such as Rennes and Toulouse saw queues at filling stations and some pumps ran dry.
Total supplies about half of France s filling stations.
Tensions between crude-exporter Iran and the West over Tehran s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions also helped boost prices, analysts said.
The US and other world powers are drumming up support for a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran for its refusal to comply with repeated ultimatums to suspend uranium enrichment and agree to a UN-backed nuclear fuel deal.
However, Shum warned that the rally might run out of steam as supply continues to outstrip demand.
OPEC is likely to keep oil output unchanged at its next meeting in March, Algeria s top energy official said on Monday.
I do not think there will be an increase and I do not think we will reduce production, Algerian Energy and Mines Minister Chakib Khelil told reporters on the sideline of an industry event in Algiers.
I think we will keep output unchanged because prices are now good and demand will rise, he said.
US crude oil stockpiles rose by nearly 3.1 million barrels to 334.5 million barrels for the week ended Feb. 12, the Department of Energy recently announced.
Distillate stocks, including heating oil and diesel fuel, dropped by 2.9 million barrels to 153.3 million barrels.
Northern parts of the United States – the world s biggest energy consuming nation -experienced extremely cold weather conditions last week which pushed up demand for heating fuel.
Oil prices soared last week on a weaker dollar and heightened tensions between crude-exporting Iran and the West, traders said.
A weaker US currency makes dollar-priced oil cheaper for buyers using stronger currencies, lifting demand. -Agencies