Singapore, August 12:

Crude oil prices on Friday rose to new highs, climbing past $66 a barrel, as reports of new US refinery outages rekindled fears that gasoline supplies in the world’s biggest consumer would struggle to meet rising demand. Midmorning in Singapore, light, sweet crude for September delivery rose as high as $66.10 a barrel in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It then slipped back a bit to $66.08, up 28 cents. On Thursday, crude touched the $66-a-barrel mark before settling at $65.80, up 90 cents on the day. Gasoline rose 1.3 cents to $1.9630 a gallon (3.8 litres) while heating oil rose a cent to 1.9097.

Analysts said gasoline demand, currently at its peak in the US summer driving season, was driving crude’s gains. Last week, US gasoline demand picked up by 1.4 per cent from a year ago, according to government data.

Coupled with new reports of refinery outages this week, traders fear US refiners, already running at near-maximized capacities, are straining to satisfy the rising demand. “People fear there won’t be enough gasoline at a time when it’s so greatly demanded, so they’re just buying, buying and buying,” said Tetsu Emori, chief commodities strategist at Mitsui Bussan Futures in Tokyo. Oil prices are almost 50 per cent higher than a year ago, but they would need to surpass $90 a barrel to exceed the inflation-adjusted peak set in 1980. The US Energy Department said on Wednesday gasoline inventories fell 2.1 million barrels to 203.1 million last week. “The refinery breakdowns are a big issue,”Emori said.