Oil futures prices slipped lower in record trading volume as the market nervously watched for signs of any production agreement coming out of the meeting in Geneva of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The market started stronger on an "extremely positive" report from the American Petroleum Institute showing a larger-than-expected drawdown in distillate, a drop in refinery runs and no buildup in crude oil, said Peter Beutel, an analyst in New York with Rudolf Wolff Energy.
But after the runup in prices on the API numbers, virtually all the gains were erased in later dealings.
"The trading wasn't frantic, but it was steady," said John Hill, an analyst in New York with Merrill Lynch Commodities.
The New York Mercantile Exchange estimated the number of crude oil contracts at 51,176, obliterating the previous record of 42,840, set the day before.
The news from OPEC was far from definitive, with members and five independent producing nations acknowleging that production cuts are desirable, but reaching no agreement on how to accomplish this.