NEW YORK — Natural gas prices climbed more than 2 percent on Wednesday as President Barack Obama said he wanted the U.S. to use more of it instead of foreign oil. Forecasts for colder weather also pushed up prices.

Natural gas for May delivery added 9.2 cents to settle at $4.355 per 1,000 cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Obama announced that he wants to cut the country's oil imports by a third by 2025. The president touted a series of initiatives, emphasizing that the U.S. could rely more on its own natural gas and biofuels to generate electricity and to power vehicles.

Obama cited the pain at the gas pump drivers have experienced in recent months as one of the most obvious reasons for reducing America's dependence on foreign oil. Gasoline prices continued to rise Wednesday. The national average added nearly a penny at $3.595 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular has jumped by 22.7 cents in the last month and by 80 cents since this time last year.

Fadel Gheit, an energy analyst with Oppenheimer & Co., said the president's energy strategy makes sense: "We have abundance of natural gas in this country and the best technology in the world. We should capitalize on that."

Shares of natural gas companies Chesapeake Energy Corp., Range Resources Corp., EQT Corp. and Energen Corp. rose throughout the day. Chesapeake and Range shares gained about 3 percent.

The industry has been on a roll lately. It benefited indirectly earlier this month when the Environmental Protection Agency announced stricter emissions standards for coal-fired power plants. That could drive more utilities to switch to natural gas to run generators. Some were already using more natural gas, because it was more affordable than coal and had lower greenhouse-gas emissions.

Some municipal bus systems, taxi companies and trash collectors also have started using natural gas-powered vehicles, and automakers are working on new models that run on natural gas. Richard Kolodziej, president of the Natural Gas Vehicle Association, a lobbying group, said Obama's support will boost efforts in Congress to expand tax incentives on natural gas vehicles.

Natural gas prices have been relatively depressed because of weak demand during the recession and a surge in domestic production. The price for natural gas has increased about 11 percent since March 2009. Oil has more than tripled since then. On Wednesday, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for May delivery fell 52 cents to settle at $104.27 per barrel on the Nymex. In London, Brent crude lost 1 cent to settle at $114.95 on the ICE Futures exchange.

In its weekly report on petroleum supplies, the Energy Department said U.S. crude supplies rose by 2.9 million barrels last week. Gasoline supplies fell by 2.7 million barrels.

Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, said Obama's continued endorsement of natural gas drilling will convince investors to be more bullish about natural gas. Still, government policies usually don't affect short-term supply or consumption. Most traders are keeping a closer eye on the weather, which is expected to remain unseasonably chilly across much of the U.S. in April.

"We're expecting snow," said Lynch, who is based in Winchester, Mass. "Cold weather is going to keep natural gas demand high." That's helped boost prices, he said.

AccuWeather forecasters said Wednesday that chilly weather could linger in northern parts of the country into May or June.

In other Nymex trading for April contracts, heating oil was flat to settle at $3.0534 per gallon and gasoline added 1.4 cents to settle at $3.0573 per gallon.

AP Energy Writer Jonathan Fahey contributed to this story.