Oil edges closer to $100

NEW YORK — Oil prices edged further up above $99 Thursday, the first trading day after Christmas, as violence in South Sudan stoked concerns about the country’s oil production.

Benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery was up 33 cents to close at $99.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Oil prices gained nearly 3 percent last week as optimism about the U.S. economic recovery lifted expectations for the country’s energy demand.

Worries over instability in South Sudan have led some analysts to predict the contract may top $100 a barrel for the first time since mid-October. On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council voted to increase U.N. peacekeeping forces in conflict-torn South Sudan by nearly 80 percent.

At the gas pump, the U.S. average price of a gallon of gasoline is $3.27. That’s up 6 cents from a week ago, and up 21 cents from this time last year. In Houston Thursday, the average was $3.114 a gallon, up from $3.110 Wednesday.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was up 8 cents at $111.98 a barrel in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
—Wholesale gasoline rose 0.58 cent to $2.82 a gallon.
—Heating oil inched up 1.7 cents at $3.09 a gallon.
—Natural gas was up 1.7 cents to $4.43 per 1,000 cubic feet.