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Oil slips closer to $103 as supply fears recede

The price of oil slipped closer to $103 a barrel Tuesday as concerns about possible supply disruptions continued to fade.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery was down 15 cents to $103.38 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was down 64 cents to $109.60 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

The Nymex contract has been easing since it hit a 10-month closing high of $107.26 on June 20, reflecting worries that insurgents in Iraq might push into important oil-producing regions and choke off supplies from OPEC's second-biggest exporter. The Iraqi government's progress in regaining some control since then has assuaged those fears.

U.S. crude production, meanwhile, is at its highest in about two decades.

Also, an agreement in Libya between the central government and a regional militia is expected to allow the reopening of two oil terminals, boosting crude exports by about 500,000 barrels a day from 350,000 barrels now.

"The imminent return of Libyan supply to the market is continuing to weigh on prices," said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt in a note to clients.

Commerzbank, however, warned that the need for infrastructure maintenance and the fragility of the agreement still posed risks.

Investors will later be monitoring fresh information on U.S. stockpiles of crude and refined products.

Data for the week ending July 4 is expected to show draws of 3 million barrels in crude oil stocks and of 1 million barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos.

The American Petroleum Institute will release its report on oil stocks later Tuesday, while the report from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration — the market benchmark — will be out on Wednesday.

In other energy futures trading in New York:

— Wholesale gasoline retreated 1.25 cents to $2.9765 a gallon.

— Natural gas fell 3.9 cents to $4.186 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil lost 1.11 cents to $2.9034 a gallon.