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US oil climbs to 3-week high, ends over $101 after data

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Crude oil futures rose on both sides of the Atlantic on Thursday, with U.S. crude up settling more than $1 higher at a three-week high, as strong U.S. economic data and the end of refinery maintenance season signaled strong demand ahead for crude oil.

The U.S. economy grew a bit faster than previously estimated in the fourth quarter, data showed, while the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week and touched its lowest level in nearly four months.

U.S. crude's gains gave a lift to Brent, which also drew support from worries that possible Western sanctions on Russia's energy sector could disrupt global supplies. The United States and the European Union agreed on Wednesday to work together on preparing possible further economic sanctions in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine and to make Europe less dependent on Russian gas.

Brent for May delivery was up 80 cents near $108 a barrel. U.S. crude for May delivery ended up $1.02 to settle at $101.28 a barrel, extending the prior session's gains. It was on track for its highest close in three weeks, up 2.1 percent for the week, and set for its biggest weekly gain in seven.

U.S. crude, or West Texas Intermediate (WTI), continued its upward trend following Wednesday's data showing a further drain in oil inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery point for the NYMEX contract, which hit their lowest level since January 2012. That oil is piling up along the U.S. Gulf Coast, home to nearly half of the nation's refinery capacity, where maintenance season is coming to its close and refineries are preparing to churn out summer-grade gasoline.

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