The price of oil fell near $97 a barrel Thursday as unemployment claims rose more than expected.

Benchmark oil for March delivery fell 72 cents to $97.22 a barrel in morning trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Oil is still up more than $5 for the month of January, making it the biggest monthly increase since August.

Those gains are reflected in pump prices. The average price of a gallon of gas has risen 10 cents in just the past week, to $3.42 a gallon, according to AAA, Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. Gas hasn't averaged more than $3.40 a gallon since the last day of November.

The government said the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose sharply last week, although it remained at a level consistent with moderate hiring. A separate report showed that consumer spending slowed in December when compared with November.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, fell 33 cents to $114.77 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

  • Wholesale gasoline lost 4 cents to $3 per gallon.
  • Natural gas fell 8 cents to $3.26 per 1,000 cubic feet.
  • Heating oil was down 1 cent at $3.10 a gallon.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.