Crude oil prices continued their upward march as 2010 draws to a close, boosted by colder than expected weather in the northern hemisphere and decreased inventories.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) contracts reached $91.03 a barrel on 30 December, up $0.31 a barrel from 23 December when it was valued at $90.72 a barrel.

The European crude oil market also moved further up with Brent crude prices hitting $94.07 a barrel, up $0.28 a barrel from $93.79 a barrel.

The 12-crude basket of exports from the member states of the international oil producers group Opec averaged $90.32 a barrel for the week ending 31 December. This is up $1.25 a barrel on the previous week, which settled at $89.07 a barrel.

There has been little evidence that the cartel will act to bring prices down. Opec decided to maintain current production levels at their latest meeting in Vienna on 11 December.

The 11 members pumped an average of 26.7 million barrels a day in November, 80,000 b/d lower than October levels, but still 1.85 million b/d more than their 24.845 million b/d target. Iraq is currently not subject to Opec quotas. 

Arab Opec ministers also met in Cairo on 25 December to discuss oil production and prices, although no decision on output was announced.

However, according to the US’ Energy Information Administration, prices have been supported throughout the year by strengthening global demand for products.

“Demand growth in 2010 has been broad-based, with strong non-OECD oil demand throughout the year, augmented by a pick-up in OECD consumption, particularly in the United States, as the year progressed”, the EIA said in its 22 December weekly energy report.