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US oil settles at $57.15 a barrel, down 59 cents, or 1.02%

An oil well owned an operated by Apache Corp. in the Permian Basin, Garden City, Texas.
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An oil well owned an operated by Apache Corp. in the Permian Basin, Garden City, Texas.

Oil prices diverged on Friday, with Brent rising to a near 4½ month high and WTI crude falling as data showed the drop in U.S. oil rigs quickened this week.

U.S. crude closed at $57.15 a barrel, down 59 cents, or 1.02 percent, retreating from Thursday's 2015 high of $58.41. Brent crude was up 50 cents at $65.30 a barrel, after hitting a Dec. 10 high of $65.80. Brent was headed for a third straight week of gains, adding nearly 3 percent this week.

Drillers idled 31 oil rigs this week, leaving 703 rigs active, after taking 26 and 42 rigs out of service in the previous two weeks, oil services firm Baker Hughes Inc said in its closely watched report.

With the oil rig decline this week, the number of active rigs has fallen for a record 20 weeks in a row to the lowest since 2010, according to Baker Hughes data going back to 1987.

Separately, fighting between Yemen's warring factions raged in southern and central parts of the country and air strikes from a Saudi-led coalition hit Houthi militia forces, creating more tensions over the security of Middle East oil supplies.

A softer dollar also lent support to Brent and formed a floor beneath falling U.S. crude prices.

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Worries that crude stockpiles in the United States could hit a new record next week weighed on U.S. crude, even as overall demand for oil and fuel products, especially gasoline, picked up ahead of the peak summer driving season.

"It's a push and pull situation with the Yemen tensions giving Brent support while U.S. prices get pulled down as people steel themselves for another inventory rise next week," said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.

After a selloff between June and January driven by oversupply, oil prices seem to have found their footing in the last three months, gaining about 20 percent in April.

Even so, oil producers and Wall Street are at odds on whether the slump is over, with the financial community betting the recovery will be quickly than the industry expects.

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On Friday, Societe Generale raised its 2015 average price forecast for Brent by $4.33 to $59.54 a barrel and for U.S. crude by $4.28 to $53.62.

Some analysts warn that recent price gains could encourage more U.S. shale oil production.

OPEC crude production, meanwhile, outstrips demand by nearly 2 million barrels per day.

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Some oil majors are considering further spending cuts to deal with an extended period of low prices.

"The hard facts are rather speaking for low prices," said Eugen Weinberg at Commerzbank.