WASHINGTON - Oil prices inched closer to $50 a barrel Thursday even as the Bush administration offered to tap the nation’s emergency stockpile of crude on behalf of refiners whose supply was disrupted by Hurricane Ivan.
It would be the first time the government loaned oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in almost two years.
While analysts said the impact on red-hot energy markets would ultimately depend on the amount of oil made available, they expected the size of any loans — and the effect on prices — to be small.
‘‘If there is any oil loaned from the reserve it will be minimal and certainly not enough ... to make up for oil production that continues to be lost on a daily basis or to kill the momentum of the current rally,’’ said John Kilduff, senior oil analyst at Fimat USA in New York.
The government did not say which refiners made the requests or how much oil they sought to borrow.
Light crude for November delivery rose 11 cents to $48.46 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, retreating from an intraday high of $49. That was 24 cents below the Aug. 19 peak Nymex settlement price. Adjusting for inflation, today’s prices are still about $8 below the level reached just before the first Gulf War.
The possibility of the government loaning oil to refiners comes as oil production in the Gulf of Mexico continues to lag by 27 percent below normal at 1.2 million barrels per day, according to the federal Minerals Management Service.