Oil prices dipped on Thursday over fears that Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean could interrupt crude shipments in and out of the United States and as Libyan output began to recover from disruptions.
However, prices received some support from rising demand in the United States, where Gulf Coast refineries are restarting in the wake of Hurricane Harvey that hit the region less than two weeks ago.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 14 cents at $49.02 (£37.58) barrel at 6AM, but were still close to their highest in more than three weeks, reached in the previous session.
Brent crude futures, the benchmark for oil prices outside the United States, dipped 26 cents to $53.94 a barrel, though still not far from May highs reached the day before.
US Gulf Coast facilities were slowly recovering from the devastating effects of Harvey, which hammered Louisiana and Texas almost two weeks ago, shutting key infrastructure in the heart of the US oil and natural gas industry.
As of Wednesday, about 3.8 million barrels of daily refining capacity, or about 20 per cent, was shut in, although a number of the refineries, as well as petroleum handling ports, were in the process of restarting.
ANZ bank said on Thursday that US crude prices should receive some support “as US refineries increase their oil demand as they recover from recent flooding”.
Business picture of the day
While Harvey’s effects were slowly fading, the massive Hurricane Irma hit Caribbean islands overnight with wind speeds up to 185 miles per hour and was heading for Florida, where fuel shortages were reported as gas stations struggled to keep up with demand from customers filling tanks ahead of the storm’s landfall, expected this weekend.
Another Atlantic storm, named Jose, is following on Irma’s heels and has been upgraded to hurricane strength by the US National Hurricane Centre. Yet another hurricane, Katia, is developing in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Demand may continue to be distorted as multiple hurricanes make their way across the Caribbean,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA.
Outside the United States, ANZ said that the return of Libya’s largest oil field to production was “less supportive” of prices.
Oil output at Libya’s Sharara field, the country’s largest, was resuming on Wednesday after a valve was reopened on a pipeline shut by an armed group for more than two weeks, Libyan oil industry sources said.