Crude oil eases to US$86.65 a barrel US budget talks appear to hit impasse

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - The price of oil wavered between small gains and losses Thursday as traders balanced concerns over an apparent impasse in Washington's critical budget negotiations with enthusiasm over steps taken to boost a slow-growing economy.

President Barack Obama and Republican leaders don't appear to be close a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff before year's end. Without an agreement, hundreds of billions of dollars in tax increases and government spending cuts will automatically take effect in January.

Optimism surrounding the Federal Reserve's latest move to boost the U.S. economy drove oil higher when it was announced Wednesday. Any sign of an improving economy could spur energy demand.

But benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude was down 12 cents at US$86.65 a barrel in early afternoon trading in New York on Thursday.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, fell 55 cents to US$107.47 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on New York Mercantile Exchange, heating oil was flat at US$2.97 a U.S. gallon (3.79 litres), wholesale gasoline fell one cent to US$2.63 a gallon and natural gas lost three cents to $3.35 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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