(AP) - The price of oil rose slightly Friday and finished the month with a gain of 5 percent. And the price of gasoline saw the biggest monthly increase since July as refineries prepared for the U.S. driving season.
Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery rose 19 cents to $102.59 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. For all of February, oil gained $5.10 a barrel. U.S. refineries needed crude oil to make heating oil and diesel as frigid and stormy weather boosted demand.
The average price drivers are paying for gasoline in the U.S. rose a penny Friday to $3.45, the highest price since Sept. 25, according to AAA. The price rose 17 cents for the month _ gasoline prices typically go up in February as refineries undergo seasonal maintenance, reducing supplies. Still, gasoline is 33 cents cheaper than it was at this time last year.
AAA expects the price of gasoline to peak this year between $3.55 and $3.75. The peak price last year was $3.79 a gallon on Feb. 27.
Natural gas ended a wild month by gaining 10 cents Friday to $4.61 per 1,000 cubic feet. The price soared in the middle of the month as homeowners raised the thermostat and supplies fell sharply. But those gains quickly evaporated as forecasts called for warmer temperatures by the middle of March. For February, natural gas futures lost 33 cents, or nearly 7 percent.
Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international varieties of crude, rose 11 cents to $109.07 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
_ Wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to $2.79 per gallon.
_ Heating oil was flat at $3.09 per gallon.
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