Crude Oil Prices Hit Near 6-Month High as Hurricane Laura Shuts Refineries By

© Reuters.

By Geoffrey Smith — Crude oil prices hit their highest level in nearly six months on Tuesday as Hurricane Laura threatened to bear down on refineries in East Texas and Louisiana.

By 9:15 AM ET (1315 GMT), futures had popped 1.9% higher to $43.44 a barrel, having earlier risen as high as $43.56, its highest since the first week of March. The global marker was up by 1.6% at $46.39 a barrel, lagging due to the localized nature of the threat to supplies.

, meanwhile, leaped another 3.8% to $1.4185 a gallon, also a six-month high.

Laura, which was upgraded to Hurricane designation overnight by the National Hurricane Center, is expected to make landfall somewhere on the Gulf Coast by Wednesday evening, local time.  

Refiners on the coast have already reacted by shutting down operations in anticipation of potential flooding, prompted by memories of the apocalyptic scenes witnessed at the time of Hurricane Harvey three years ago.  

The Saudi Aramco-owned Port Arthur refinery, which can process over 600,000 barrels a day, has already shut down, while Total and Valero have also closed their East Texas refineries, according to Reuters, taking another 560,000 barrels a day of throughput capacity offline.

Nearly half of the U.S.’s refining capacity is based on the Gulf Coast. Over half of that had to close for some time during Hurricane Harvey and the disruptions to product markets lasted for weeks afterwards.

However, in stark contrast to 2017, the 2020 hurricane season is taking place against a backdrop of record-high U.S. gasoline stocks – over 243 million barrels at the Energy Information Administration’s last count – and demand that is still running 10% below last year’s levels.  

Barring a truly extreme disruption to supplies from the Gulf refineries, the market should easily be able to absorb any temporary shortfall by drawing down inventory.

The hurricane warnings are overshadowing what is likely to be the day’s other main event, the release of American Petroleum Institute stockpiles data at 4:30 PM ET. Analysts expect the government data to show another draw on crude stocks of 3.83 million barrels last week.

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