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Oil hits highest since Nov. 2014 as Iran tensions mount

An oil well is seen at the Sindbad oil field near the Iraqi-Iranian border in Basra, Iraq April 23, 2018. Picture taken April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oil prices rose about 2 percent on Friday with U.S. crude hitting its highest in more than three years as global supplies remained tight and the market awaited news from Washington on possible new U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Bob Yawger, director at Mizuho, noted the looming May 12 deadline that U.S. President Donald Trump set for Europeans to "fix" the deal with Iran over its nuclear programme or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief for the oil-producing Islamic Republic.

"You have the May 12 Iran and Trump headlines that support the market," he said.

U.S. light crude (CLc1) settled up $1.29 at $69.72 a barrel. It touched a session high of $69.97, its highest since November 2014. It was on track to gain just over 2.3 percent on the week.

Brent crude oil (LCOc1) settled up $1.25 at $74.87 a barrel. The global benchmark was set to end the week up 0.3 percent.

Iran's foreign minister said on Thursday that U.S. demands to change its 2015 agreement with world powers were unacceptable. Trump has said European allies must rectify "terrible flaws" in the international accord by May 12.

European powers want to hand Trump a plan to save the Iran nuclear deal next week. But they have also started work on protecting EU-Iranian business ties if Trump makes good on his threat to withdraw.

Iran resumed its role as a major oil exporter in January 2016 when international sanctions were lifted in return for curbs on Tehran's nuclear programme.

ANZ analysts Daniel Hynes and Soni Kumari said Brent could reach $80 a barrel by the end of this year, attributing recent strength to rising geopolitical risks and tighter global supply.

"We expect the market to tighten even further in second half 2018," they wrote in a note to clients.

Still, growing U.S. crude supplies have been capping price gains.

Surging production in the Permian shale basin is outpacing pipeline capacity, while local refining issues have exacerbated oversupply.

The United States now produces more crude oil than top exporter Saudi Arabia, and two weeks of U.S. inventory builds have limited the oil markets upside. U.S. energy companies added oil rigs for a fifth straight week, with higher crude prices boosting profits and pushing nationwide production to record highs. [RIG/U]

Drillers added nine oil rigs in the week to May 4, bringing the total to 834, the highest since March 2015, General Electric Co's (GE.N) Baker Hughes energy services firm said. (RIG-OL-USA-BHI)


(Additional reporting by Meng Meng in BEIJING and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE and Christopher Johnson in LONDON; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)