NEW YORK - Oil settled above $145 a barrel for the third time this month, close to where it began last week, after a back-and-forth trading session that mimicked last week's wild swings.
Light, sweet crude for August delivery gained 10 cents to settle at $145.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange - just more than a dime short of the record settlement high. Earlier, the contract dipped as low as $142.49 and rose as high as $146.37.
At the gas pump, prices hit a US record just a 10th of a penny shy of $4.11 a gallon, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service, and Wright Express. Retail diesel prices are also at a record high, of $4.82 a gallon. A Massachusetts survey by AAA of Southern New England found an average price of $4.06 a gallon for self-serve, regular unleaded gas, down 2 cents from a week ago.
Yesterday's oil price swings came as President Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore oil drilling. That alone will not loosen tight global supplies in the short term because a congressional prohibition remains in place and any new wells would take years to complete.
However, prices might pull back were Congress to end its own ban, said Phil Flynn, analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago.
"It would send a signal to the market that the US is serious about producing oil. Over time, prices would come down," Flynn said.
In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures fell 1.17 cents to settle just under $4.07 a gallon while gasoline futures rose 0.55 cent to settle at $3.56 a gallon. Natural gas futures rose 5.5 cents to settle at $11.96 per 1,000 cubic feet.