SINGAPORE - Oil prices were higher above 71 dollars a barrel in Asian trade Thursday following a sharp fall in US crude reserves and amid continued unrest in Iran and Nigeria.
New York's main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in July, gained 47 cents to 71.50 dollars a barrel.
Brent North Sea crude for August delivery was up 48 cents to 71.33 dollars.
Analysts said the sharp decline in crude inventories showed energy demand was picking up in the United States, the world's biggest energy consumer.
The weekly US Department of Energy (DoE) report released Wednesday showed crude stockpiles falling for the second week running, by 3.9 million barrels, far sharper than analysts' predictions.
However, prices were weighed down by the bigger-than-expected rise in gasoline stocks, which indicated poor petrol uptake at a time of the year when Americans take to the roads in large numbers for their summer holidays.
Gasoline stocks rose 3.4 million barrels last week, the US government's Energy Information Administration said, topping analysts' consensus forecast for an increase of 300,000 barrels.
"Overall, US fuel demand is still weak. Total petroleum products supplied in the four weeks to 12 June was 6.0 percent below the level of a year earlier," the Commonwealth Bank of Australia said.
Phil Flynn of US-based Alaron Trading said despite a rebound in US housing construction in May, the shape of the US industrial sector "is almost enough to make you cringe."
In oil-producing Iran, the opposition was set to hold marches and a day of mourning Thursday for slain protesters as they keep up pressure on the authorities over the disputed presidential election.
Some analysts fear the biggest crisis since the 1979 revolution and allegations of foreign interference could force the Iranian government to cut off oil supplies or try to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial passageway for oil tankers.
In Nigeria, a key African oil exporter, militants said they had destroyed a major crude oil pipeline belonging to Royal Dutch Shell as they continued their campaign against foreign oil companies.