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Storm concerns fade; oil falls back under $75

NEW YORK -- Oil prices slipped below $75 a barrel yesterday as supply concerns eased after a storm in the Caribbean weakened and appeared to no longer threaten Gulf coast oil facilities.

Prices remained high, though, and are subject to big swings as traders monitor factors that could affect supply, such as the potential for storms in the Gulf, record temperatures throughout the United States, violence in the Middle East, and political strife in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer.

Also keeping crude above $70 a barrel is strong energy demand in the United States and other countries, especially China, despite soaring prices. The Energy Department said in its weekly petroleum report Wednesday that US gasoline demand is still higher than a year ago.

Light sweet crude for September delivery dropped 70 cents to settle at $74.76 a barrel yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract is still up about 2 percent on the week.

September Brent crude on London's ICE futures exchange fell 39 cents to settle at $76.17 a barrel. Gasoline futures on Nymex fell 6.12 cents to settle at $2.2315 a gallon and heating oil dropped 2.39 cents to $2.0896 a gallon.

Still, US drivers were paying on average more than $3 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline yesterday, AAA said.

Recent rises in energy futures prices had been driven by fears that Tropical Storm Chris could become the first major hurricane of the season and damage Gulf Oil facilities. But the storm weakened as it swept through the eastern Caribbean.

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