Oil prices fell below $70 a barrel this evening, after a US government report showed a surprise increase in petrol supplies in the world's top consumer.

US crude lost 74 cents to $69.73 a barrel, having earlier fallen as low as $69. Brent crude slipped 52 cents to $69.72 a barrel.

The losses came after the US Energy Information Administration reported that domestic petrol stockpiles rose by 3.4 million barrels last week, defying expectations for a decline and easing worries about supplies as Americans prepare for summer road trips.

Oil's losses were tempered, however, by a larger than expected decline in crude stockpiles of 3.9 million barrels reported by the EIA, dealers said.

US crude oil inventories remain about 19% higher than a year ago, boosted by months of weak demand triggered by the effects of the economic recession.

Oil hit a 2009 high above $73 last week, lifted by expectations of economic recovery, which would increase fuel demand. But prices are still far below the record high above $147 reached last year.