London — Oil prices fell on Friday as storm Laura raced inland past the heart of the US oil industry in Louisiana and Texas without causing any widespread damage to refineries.
Brent crude futures for October, set to expire on Friday, had fallen 19c to $44.90 a barrel by 8.15am GMT. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 20c to $42.84 a barrel.
“With the US Gulf hurricanes out of the way and preliminary assessment showing no damage to the upstream or downstream facilities, crude has surrendered most of the storm premium and could enter a holding pattern again,” said Vandana Hari, oil market analyst at Vanda Insights.
Hurricane Laura, since downgraded to a tropical depression, hit Louisiana early on Thursday with winds of 240km/hour. Buildings were damaged, trees fell and power was cut to more than 650,000 people in Louisiana and Texas, but refineries were spared from feared huge flooding.
Investors are now shifting their concerns from production outages to demand destruction, analysts said.
“Crude prices have barely budged this week, but refining margins have been hammered as flash floods disrupt normal consumption patterns, likely for a longer period of time than [Gulf of Mexico] production remains offline,” said RBC Capital in a note.
US producers had shut 1.56-million barrels per day (bpd) of crude output, or 83% of the Gulf of Mexico’s production, while nine refineries had shut about 2.9-million bpd of capacity, or 15% of US processing capacity, ahead of the storm.
Late on Thursday, the Port of Houston, the top US crude oil export hub accounting for about 600,000 bpd of shipments, was in the process of reopening to commercial shipping.
The earlier closures of Houston Port, Beaumont and Port Arthur were expected to reduce seaborne crude export capacity by nearly 1-million bpd, data intelligence firm Kpler estimated, based on average figures over the past four months.
In refining, Motiva Enterprises is preparing to restart its 607,000 bpd refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, the largest in the US, on Friday and ExxonMobil was preparing to restart units at its 369,024 bpd Beaumont, Texas refinery.