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Prices of oil, natural gas continue to increase as winter storm in US rages

SEOUL, South Korea--The prices of oil and natural gas extended gains Thursday in Asia as a winter storm that slammed the U.S. and slower-than-expected supply growth raised expectations for higher energy demand.

Benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was up 23 cents to US$97.61 a barrel at 0745 GMT in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 19 cents to close at US$97.38 on Wednesday.

More than a million homes and businesses were left in darkness and cold on Wednesday in the U.S. Northeast after snow, sleet and freezing rain hit the region.

Earlier in New York, natural gas rocketed to a new four-year high before falling back as cold temperatures were expected to increase demand for heating fuels.

A report from the Energy Department showed that supplies of crude oil rose much less than analysts expected last week, adding upward pressure to oil prices.

Brent crude, a benchmark for oil sold internationally, was up 12 cents at US$106.37 on the ICE exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline edged up 0.8 cent to US$2.649 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 0.6 cent to US$2.991 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 18.7 cents to US$5.217 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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