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US crude ticks up 6 cents, settling at $47.29, as some Gulf refineries restart in Harvey's wake

Key Points
  • Storm Harvey shuts U.S. oil refineries, with a quarter of U.S. refining capacity remained offline.
  • The U.S. government released 1 million barrels of crude oil from reserves to a working refinery in Louisiana.
  • Output from OPEC in August fell 170,000 barrels per day from a 2017 high.
Oil pumpjacks in the Permian Basin oil field are getting to work as crude oil prices gain.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Oil prices recouped some losses from earlier in the day on Friday as some refineries shut by Hurricane Harvey along the U.S. Gulf Coast began to restart, calming fears over fuel shortages.

Harvey, downgraded to a tropical storm and losing steam as it moved inland, shut at least 4.4 million barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity.

That sparked fears of a fuel shortage ahead of the Labor Day weekend and cut refinery demand for crude, widening the spread between U.S. gasoline and crude.

U.S. gasoline prices hit a two-year high above $2 a gallon on Thursday, but on Friday, as two refineries began to restart, the "crack spread" — the difference between crude oil and gasoline prices — fell nearly 11 percent.

Gasoline for September delivery settled up 25.52 cents, or 13.5 percent, at $2.1399 per gallon on the last day of trading in the contract. U.S. gasoline futures for October delivery was down 2 percent at $1.7436 per gallon at 2:25 p.m. ET.

Trading Nation: Gas and oil spike

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was down 8 cents at $47.15 barrel. The contract rebounded 2.8 percent on Thursday but is still heading for a weekly decline of 1.9 percent.

The new Brent contract for November delivery was down 26 cents at $52.60 barrel. The contract for October, which expired on Thursday, closed up $1.52 at $52.38.

"The good news for consumers is that it seems some of the units are in the process of getting back in operation," said John Kilduff, partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital LLC, adding the news was underpinning crude prices. "You can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Marathon Petroleum Corp's Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, Texas, had raised production to 45 percent of its 459,000 barrel per day capacity, sources told Reuters on Friday, while Citgo Petroleum Corp on Friday said it was beginning to restart its 157,500-barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The U.S. Energy Secretary has approved up to 4.5 million barrels of crude oil to be released
from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in response to the impact from Tropical Storm Harvey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy said on Friday.

That marks an additional 3.5 million barrels on top of the 1 million barrels of oil approved as of Thursday.

RBC's Helima Croft lays out Harvey's impact on oil & gas

Traders were also scrambling to redirect fuel to the United States.

U.S. crude stocks fell sharply last week even as refineries hiked output in the run up to Harvey's approach, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

That should encourage OPEC and non-OPEC members that are trying to restrict supplies to boost prices that are about half the level of three years ago.

Output from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in August fell 170,000 bpd from a 2017 high, a Reuters survey found, as renewed unrest cut supplies in Libya and other members stepped up compliance with their production-cutting deal with non-OPEC countries including Russia.

But market rebalancing may take longer than expected if production comes back in the United States and refiners cannot feed that output into flooded refineries.

"Production will come back faster than refining so it is just going to exacerbate the situation where there's too much oil," said Tony Nunan, oil risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp.

The number of oil rigs operating in U.S. fields was unchanged from the prior week, oilfield services firm Baker Hughes reported on Friday. The rig count stood at 759, up from 352 a year ago.

— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this story.