SINGAPORE, Oct 10 (Reuters): Oil prices held steady today, as worries over weaker US fuel demand balanced the continued loss of supplies from the Gulf of Mexico and strike-hit French refineries.
US crude oil futures were unchanged at $61.84 a barrel after settling 48 cents higher Friday. London Brent crude eased 6 cents to $59.15 a barrel.
Prices slid to a nine-week low of $60.70 Thursday after US government data showed lower gasoline demand in the United States, the world's top energy consumer, though they remained 42 per cent up from the start of the year.
US demand for the motor fuel will be about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) lower than initially forecast for at least the next couple of weeks because of high pump prices unleashed by recent storms, the US government said last week.
Dockers in the port of Marseille returned to work Saturday and hopes rose that a separate strike disrupting oil terminals in southern France could soon end, officials said.
But dock staff operating equipment remained on strike at the 600,000- bpd Fos-Lavera southern refining hub, preventing oil tankers and container ships from unloading.
The strikes have put half of France's refining capacity in jeopardy and have compounded global fuel supply woes, coinciding with refinery outages in the US Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
US refineries are slowly recovering but 10 remain completely offline after the back-to-back storms, amounting to about 14 per cent of US refining capacity.
Crude supplies from the US Gulf of Mexico still shut as of Friday were 77.53 per cent of the normal 1.5 million bpd output. Repairs to dozens of platforms with major hurricane damage could run into next year, spelling a slow recovery to output.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter, has said it would provide more crude to buyers in the United States and elsewhere if customers want it, but has seen little interest so far.
Production in Iraq is expected to rise by January to 1.8 million bpd with higher output from southern fields and tighter security in the north, Iraq's Energy Council President Ahmad Chalabi said.
Problems in production due to ageing wells and power cuts as well as attacks on the northern export pipeline have limited Iraq's exports to 1.5 million bpd.