Pump prices file photo

Gas prices have finally started to fall at the pump, but volatility remains in oil prices.

Oil prices appeared to be on the mend in early morning trades on Monday, Dec. 6, as fears surrounding the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, have begun to ease.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told reporters it is too soon to make declarations about Omicron, but acknowledged Omicron does appear to be less severe than Delta so far, even if it is also more transmissible. Delta is continuing to drive a surge in hospitalizations in the United States, particularly in vaccine-hesitant regions.

Omicron, of course, is already circulating in the United States. It has been identified in about one-third of the lower 48 states, including North Dakota neighbor, Minnesota. The Biden administration has already signaled it might lift travel restrictions for non-citizens entering the United States from Africa.

Meanwhile, Iran nuclear accord talks fell apart on Friday, lessening market fears of a new supply glut from Iranian oil. Even as hopes for a deal were waning, OPEC was meeting and decided it would stick to the scheduled 400,000 barrel per day output hike for January. But the cartel also left the meeting open, to allow quick adjustments to production quotas.

Saudi Arabia has, perhaps aspirationally, boosted selling prices for Asia and the United States by 60 to 80 cents a barrel. Whether that will hold in the present volatility remains to be seen, but Saudi prices are generally seen as a bellwether by many market analysts.

WTI was up $3.44 in early morning trades at $69.70 and Brent was up $3.47 at $73.35, about a 5 percent increase for both.

Gas prices, meanwhile, finally fell slightly at the pump, dropping from a $3.394 national average to $3.358 for a gallon of regular. North Dakota prices followed the national trend, falling from a $3.177 state average to $3.143 for a gallon of regular week over week.

Those prices are still more than a dollar higher than last year, however, when a gallon of regular cost just $2.025.

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