Oil prices dip as market grapples with hurricane damage

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[August 29, 2017]  By Libby George

LONDON (Reuters) - Crude prices dipped on Tuesday as the market grappled with the shutdown of some 13 percent of refining capacity in the United States after a hurricane ripped through the heart of the country's oil industry.

The refinery closures helped push U.S. gasoline futures <RBc1> to a two-year high of $1.7799 per gallon on Monday, although they had receded to $1.7078 by 0957 GMT on Tuesday.

International Brent crude futures <LCOc1> were 42 cents lower at $51.47 per barrel, having traded as high as $52.19 earlier in the day.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude <CLc1> edged down 10 cents to $46.47 a barrel, after falling more than 2 percent in the previous session.

The damage assessment could lead to more volatility. Some refineries were preparing for restarts, but heavy rains are expected to last through Wednesday, adding to catastrophic flooding in Houston.

"Refineries in Asia should run much harder to make up for (U.S. closures), which is supportive for Brent," said Olivier Jakob, managing director of oil analysis firm PetroMatrix.

Still, Jakob warned that the scale of U.S. upstream outages was not yet clear, and extensive damage on oilfields or pipelines could boost WTI prices.

Tropical Storm Harvey, which has been downgraded from a hurricane, hit oil refiners harder than crude producers.

"Around 2-3 million bpd (barrels per day) of refining capacity is offline or in the process of shutting down ... (and) more than 500,000 bpd of oil production... is offline," Barclays bank said.

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Clouds from Hurricane Harvey are seen in the background as smoke rises from a burn off at an oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S. August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo

It added that the storm's impact would "linger for several more weeks."

As a result, the discount of U.S. WTI versus Brent surpassed $5 per barrel, its widest in more than two years.

Crude markets were also looking at disruptions in Libya and Colombia.

In Libya, militia pipeline blockades closed three oilfields and forced state-run National Oil Corp to declare force majeure at several sites. The 280,000-bpd Sharara field, the OPEC member's largest, has been shut for around a week.

In Colombia, a bomb attack by the leftist ELN rebel group halted pumping operations along the country's second-largest oil pipeline, the 210,000-bpd Cano-Limon Covenas.

Despite this, crude remains in ample supply, resulting in low prices.

"We are thus lowering our Brent oil price estimates to $55 per barrel from $60 per barrel in 4Q17 (and) to $57 per barrel from $64 per barrel in 2018," Jefferies bank said.

(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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