Oil flat as massive storm aims for East Coast

The price of oil is little changed as data show the U.S. economy is muddling along and a big storm threatens the East Coast.

Benchmark oil fell 1 cent to $86.04 per barrel in afternoon trading Friday.

Forecasters expect a so-called "Frankenstorm" to hit the East Coast beginning early Sunday with heavy rain, winds and perhaps snow lingering into Halloween. It has the potential to force refinery closures and delays in deliveries of imports.

More than half a dozen refineries could be in the path of the storm. Closures would cut into supplies of energy products such as gasoline and heating oil, which primarily is used in the Northeast to keep businesses and homes warm.

Meanwhile, the government said the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2 percent in the third quarter as consumers and the government increased spending. But growth remains too weak to significantly boost job creation _ or energy demand.

Demand for oil and refined products could drop if residents are forced to stay home because of bad weather, Price Futures Group oil analyst Phil Flynn said. But longer term, a disruption in supplies could push up gasoline prices.

In addition, supplies also could be affected if ships delivering oil imports are unable to dock at the New York harbor.

At the pump, the national average price for gasoline fell 2.4 cents overnight to $3.575 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service. That's 23 cents less than it was a month ago but 13 cents more than a year ago.

In London, Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, rose 56 cents to $109.04 per barrel.

In other futures trading in New York:

_ Heating oil rose 3 cents to $3.09 per gallon.

_ Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $2.68 per gallon.

_ Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.40 per 1,000 cubic feet.