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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Oil markets turbulent as Harvey batters Texas

US crude futures fall as the refinery shutdowns could reduce demand for American crude

A Marathon Petroleum refinery in Texas. Hurricane Harvey's aftermath flooding has shut many oil facilities. Carter Smith / Bloomberg
A Marathon Petroleum refinery in Texas. Hurricane Harvey's aftermath flooding has shut many oil facilities. Carter Smith / Bloomberg

Oil markets were roiled on Monday after Tropical Storm Harvey wreaked havoc along the US Gulf Coast over the weekend, crippling Houston and its port, and knocking out numerous refineries as well as some crude production.

US petrol prices hit two-year highs as huge floods caused by the storm forced refineries in the area to close. In turn, US crude futures fell as the refinery shutdowns could reduce demand for American crude.

Brent futures eased, but losses were capped as pipeline blockades in Libya slashed the Opec country's production by nearly 400,000 barrels per day.

Harvey is the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, causing large-scale flooding and forcing the closure of Houston port as well as several refineries.

The US National Hurricane Center said Harvey was moving away from the coast but was expected to linger close to the shore through Tuesday, and that floods would spread from Texas eastward to Louisiana.

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Texas is home to 5.6 million barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity, and Louisiana has 3.3 million bpd. More than 2 million bpd of refining capacity was estimated to be offline as a result of the storm.

Spot prices for US petrol futures surged 7 per cent to a peak of US$1.7799 per gallon, the highest level since late July 2015, before easing to $1.7352 by 09.48 GMT.

US traders were seeking oil product cargoes from North Asia, several refining and shipping sources said, with transatlantic exports of motor fuel out of Europe expected to surge.

"Global refining margins are going to stay very strong," said Olivier Jakob, the managing director of Petromatrix.

"If [US] refineries shut down for more than a week, Asia will need to run at a higher level, because there's no spare capacity in Europe."

About 22 percent, or 379,000 bpd, of Gulf production was idled due to the storm as of Sunday afternoon, the US bureau of safety and environmental enforcement said. There may also be around 300,000 bpd of onshore US production shut in, trading sources said.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 52 cents at $47.35 a barrel.

Brent crude was down 12 cents at $52.29 per barrel.

These opposing price movements pushed the WTI discount versus Brent to as much as $5.06 per barrel, the widest in two years.

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