Crude oil prices have fallen modestly under pressure from signs Libya is about to resume oil exports, while Russia-Ukraine tensions acted to curb selling.
New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate for May delivery, fell 30 cents to close at $103.75 a barrel.
Brent North Sea crude for May closed on the contract’s final day of trade in London at $108.74 a barrel, down 33 cents from Monday.
Traders focused on Libya, where a government deal with rebels last week was close to allowing crude oil exports from two terminals for the first time in eight months.
On Tuesday the National Oil Company said a tanker was to start loading crude oil for export at Al-Hariga oil terminal, the first of the two terminals where rebels had agreed to end their blockades since July.
Rebels still maintain a blockade on two other terminals.
Tim Evans of Citi Futures said the market may have been “reassured” by the first tanker loading, although total Libyan oil production remains quite low at an estimated 200,000 barrels per day.
“There does seem to be a framework in place to reopen more oil terminals and resume production if these small initial steps succeed in building trust,” Evans said.
Investors once again were watching the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Russia warned on Tuesday that Ukraine was on the brink of “civil war” after Kiev’s leaders pushed troops and tanks toward a flashpoint eastern city to counter a separatist surge backed by Moscow.
“The Ukraine crisis is likely to remain in a deadlock and should continue to render good support to benchmark crude prices in the near term,” Tan Chee Tat, an analyst at brokers Phillip Futures, told AFP.
Michael Lynch of Strategic Energy and Economic Research said that “people are concerned about the Ukraine situation but not enough to push prices up.”
“People wait for things to happen. They may use force to evict some of the protesters but will it degenerate into any actual fighting?”