AP Energy Writer

NEW YORK (AP) Oil prices rose above $65 per barrel Thursday as OPEC maintained crude production levels as expected and a pair of economic reports suggested an economic rebound may push energy prices higher.

Benchmark crude for July delivery added $1.56 to reach $65.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, a six-month high.

In London, Brent prices gained $1.80 to $64.30 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Retail gas prices have shadowed oil prices, ticking higher every day this month. Gas prices are not only rising because of crude. Refiners, stung by falling demand for gasoline, have cut back sharply on production this year.

The national average pump price increased 1.5 cents overnight to $2.449 a gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Gas is 40.1 cents a gallon more expensive than last month, but it's still $1.495 a gallon cheaper than a year ago.

Despite the uptick in petroleum prices, U.S. energy consumption still hovers at its lowest level in a decade.

The Energy Information Administration said Thursday that U.S. storage facilities added another 106 billion cubic feet of natural gas last week, putting the overall surplus well above the five-year average.

That's largely because manufacturers and other big industrial power users have been slashing production and cutting jobs.

The lack of spending on energy over the past several months has meant growing supplies and lower prices, compared with last year.

On Thursday, however, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries stood firm on production levels. Oil prices have nearly doubled since the beginning of the year as the group uncharacteristically complied with production quotes for the most part.

Even though a huge glut of oil remains, OPEC President Jose Maria Bothelo de Vasconcelos said Thursday that the organization has seen signs of an economic upturn.

Signs that those cuts may be working have showed up weekly in U.S. government reports on the level of unused oil in storage.

The government reported Thursday that U.S. oil supplies dropped unexpectedly by 5.4 million barrels last week. Though crude inventories remain near 19-year highs, it was the third week in a row that supplies have fallen.

With petroleum prices, "the biggest drag until now was the oversupply in everything. That's starting to change slowly," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. "We saw the big pad of crude oil drop a little bit. And demand for oil has probably bottomed out. We may see demand start to go up."

Crude prices had fallen in the early part of the year despite OPEC cuts, but there are some indications that spending may be picking up, the other part of the equation that determines energy prices.

The government reported Thursday that demand for big-ticket manufactured goods in April took the biggest leap upward in 16 months. It was the second increase in the past three months.

And the number of newly laid-off people requesting jobless benefits fell last week, the government said Thursday, an indication that the huge layoffs may be slowing.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline for June delivery rose less than a penny to $1.8968 a gallon and heating oil added 3.76 cents to $1.5993 a gallon. Natural gas for July delivery was up 28.6 cents at $3.924 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, Alex Kennedy in Singapore and George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.