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Oil declines as gasoline demand drops to lowest in 10 years

NEW YORK - Oil declined for the fifth time in six days after US gasoline consumption tumbled to the lowest level in 10 years and inventories rose.

The Energy Department said gasoline use dropped to 8 million barrels a day last week, the lowest since September 2001. Stockpiles climbed 3.72 million barrels to 227.5 million, a 10-month high.

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Crude for February delivery slid 20 cents, or 0.2 percent, to settle at $100.39 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil has gained 17 percent in the past three months.

Brent oil for March settlement rose 89 cents, or 0.8 percent, to settle at $111.55 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.

The International Energy Agency sees no urgency to release oil stockpiles amid threats from Iran to disrupt traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, said Fatih Birol, the group’s chief economist. Almost one-fifth of the world’s oil trade flows through the strait, according to the Energy Department.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, said Wednesday that closing the strait is an option if his country’s security is endangered. European Union ministers are to meet Jan. 23 to discuss a ban on purchases of Iranian crude, which could happen within six months.

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