Brent North Sea crude oil climbed past US$76 per barrel for the first time in almost a year on Friday, fueled higher by unrest in Nigeria and concerns over tight US gasoline supplies.
Brent North Sea crude for August delivery touched US$76.01 per barrel, a level last reached on Aug. 11 last year.
New York's main oil futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in August, hit US$72.94 -- the highest level since Aug. 25.
In southern Nigeria, gunmen who kidnapped a three-year-old British girl have threatened to kill her -- unless her father takes her place, her mother said on Friday, as unrest continued to blight Africa's biggest crude producer.
Prices have also found support after the US Department of Energy revealed on Thursday that US gasoline or petrol reserves were about 4.2 percent below their level at the same time last year.
BNP Paribas analyst Harry Tchilinguirian said fresh violence in Nigeria has been bullish for prices because Nigerian crude has a high gasoline content.
"If you look at what is happening in the US right now, you see that gasoline inventories are relatively low, and refineries there are having trouble coming of maintenance because of unplanned outages," he said.
"So it's a low gasoline situation, and you are also removing from the market crudes which have a high gasoline content, so people are going to turn to the next alternative -- and that's Brent," Tchilinguirian said.
In London later on Friday, Brent North Sea crude for August delivery showed a gain of US$0.81 at US$75.56 per barrel in electronic deals.
New York's main oil futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in August, stood US$1.09 higher at US$72.90 in US floor trading.
The main separatist group in the oil-rich Niger delta meanwhile condemned the kidnapping of three-year-old Margaret Hill, and said they would hunt down her abductors as authorities stepped up efforts to secure her release.
The Brent oil price is now just a few dollars off its record high of US$78.64 per barrel, struck at the start of August last year. But New York crude has some ground to cover before reaching its historic peak of US$78.40 per barrel, set in mid-July last year.
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