Crude prices tumbled this afternoon, as a surprise build in US oil inventories offset the second-biggest weekly drop in US gasoline stocks this summer.
Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 1.78 per cent to $44.18 per barrel, while its US counterpart West Texas Intermediate crude slipped 1.87 per cent to $41.97.
Data released by the US Energy Information Administration showed crude inventories unexpectedly rose for the third consecutive week. They added 1.1m barrels in the seven days to 5 August, compared to analysts' expectations for a 1m barrel draw.
This was cushioned somewhat by gasoline and distillate stocks, which fell by 2.8m barrels and 2m barrels respectively.
"At 523.6m barrels, US crude oil inventories are at historically high levels for this time of year," the EIA wrote in its weekly report.
"Total motor gasoline inventories decreased by 2.8m barrels last week, but are well above the upper limit of the average range. Distillate fuel inventories decreased by 2.0m barrels last week but are near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year."
Concern that the world's oil markets are recovering less slowly than previously expected sent the black stuff to a three-week low recently.