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With war looming, oil prices .... FALL! | (UPI) -- Bearish reassurances from Saudi Arabia and Capitol Hill prompted oil traders to send the price of crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange lower Monday in heavy trading.

With President Bush expected to set the stage for an imminent invasion of Iraq in a Monday night speech, traders appeared to be confident that the war would not last long and that there would be enough oil on the market to avoid any major shortages.

"We will make sure there is enough oil in the market," Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said Monday in a statement from the Saudi government. "We have plenty of spare capacity."

In addition, the chairman of the House Energy Committee, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., told reporters Monday that the federal government was set to release crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help bolster the United States' relatively low oil supplies.

April crude, which tested $38 per barrel last week, slipped 45 cents Monday to $34.93 per barrel after trading in a wide range from $34 to nearly $37 per barrel. May, which becomes the front month crude contract at the end of the week, softened to $32.54 per barrel.

NYMEX gasoline and heating oil posted declines of around 1 cent per gallon. May crude on London's International Petroleum Exchange fell 61 cents to $29.54 per barrel after anti-war demonstrators interrupted trading.

U.S. retail gasoline prices were up 1.6 cents Monday from a week ago at $1.728 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The prospect of a war in the Persian Gulf has been fueling higher oil prices for the past several months despite OPEC's statements that it would continue exports in the event of war, and that the world was adequately supplied with oil despite the higher futures prices.

"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undertaking a number of significant actions to ensure the world's oil supply does not run short in the event of military action in Iraq," the Saudi statement said. "Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is committed to keeping oil prices and the market as stable as possible despite disruptions that may arise in the coming weeks and months."

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