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ICE Brent/WTI crude futures spread nears $7/b on geopolitical risk

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ICE Brent/WTI crude futures spread nears $7/b on geopolitical risk

London — The ICE Brent/WTI spread was $6.71/b Friday morning in US trading, out from $6.55/b Thursday, widening further to encourage US producers to export crude to customers overseas.

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After hitting three-year highs earlier this month, crude futures have been mostly rangebound waiting for the next catalyst.

At 1458 GMT, NYMEX June crude was 23 cents lower at $67.96/b. ICE June Brent was 7 cents lower at $74.67/b.

However, the differential between Brent and WTI has steadily widened since early March when the gap stood at roughly $3/b.

Risks to oil supply remain an issue for traders given the uncertain fate of the Iran nuclear deal and the unfolding economic crisis in Venezuela causing a decline in the country's crude output.

One place where tension has been lowered is the Korean peninsula following an historic summit Friday that marked the first time a North Korean leader has crossed the border into South Korea in decades.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged to formally end the war between the two countries and to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

"The symbolic importance of this meeting should not be underestimated," said Confluence Investment Management in a note. "It is an important development; not too long ago we were preparing for war."

Higher US crude oil production has emerged as a key source of global supply capable of offsetting any potential supply losses elsewhere.

Greater drilling activity has raised the prospect of even more production down the road. The US oil rig count stood at 820 a week ago, the most since March 2015, according to Baker Hughes.

The next weekly rig count will be released by Baker Hughes Friday afternoon at 1700 GMT.

One challenge facing US oil companies has been building pipelines fast enough to avoid bottlenecks around the Permian Basin.

The deep price discount for Permian crude relative to the Gulf Coast illustrates how tight pipeline capacity has become. WTI Midland was assessed at a $9.73/b discount to Houston WTI Thursday, compared with a $2.44/b discount on February 1.

Refined product futures were little changed so far Friday. NYMEX May ULSD was 95 points at $2.1505/gal. NYMEX May RBOB was up 15 points at $2.1138/gal.

--Geoffrey Craig,
--Edited by Maurice Geller,