MARKET WATCH: NYMEX oil futures drop with HSC partially reopened

Crude oil prices fluctuated but ended the New York trading session down modestly Mar. 25 after the US Coast Guard reopened the Houston Ship Channel to limited traffic during daylight hours while cleanup efforts continue on an oil spill off Texas City, Tex.

The USCG is supervising clean-up operations in the Port of Houston and around Galveston. On Mar. 25, USCG authorized limited marine traffic in the HSC and on the Intracoastal Waterway. Ship traffic had been halted following a barge collision and resulting spill on Mar. 22. Cause of the accident remains under investigation.

In a Mar. 25 update, officials said they expected ship traffic gradually would return to normal as clean-up efforts progress. Response crews focused Mar. 25 on removing fuel oil from Galveston’s East Beach. Oil also was being recovered from around Pelican Island and the Texas City dike.

In its weekly petroleum report, the US Energy Information Administration said commercial crude oil inventories, excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, increased by 6.6 million bbl from the previous week. At 382.5 million bbl, crude oil inventories are near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year.

The rise was bigger than analysts had anticipated. A Wall Street Journal survey showed that analysts expected a climb of 2.8 million bbl.

Gasoline stocks rise

EIA said total motor gasoline inventories decreased 5.1 million bbl for the week ended Mar. 21 compared with the previous week. The current gasoline inventory is in the lower of the average range for this time of year.

Both finished gasoline inventories and blending components inventories decreased last week. Distillate fuel inventories increased 1.6 million bbl but are below the lower limit of the average range, EIA said. Propane-propylene inventories fell 600,000 bbl last week and are near the lower limit of the average range.

Refinery inputs averaged 15.1 million b/d during the week ended Mar. 21, which was 141,000 b/d higher than the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 86% of capacity last week. Gasoline production decreased last week, averaging 9 million b/d. Distillate fuel production increased slightly, averaging more than 4.7 million b/d.

US crude oil imports for the week ended Mar. 21 averaged 7.6 million b/d, up 308,000 b/d from the week ended Mar. 14.

During the last 4 weeks, crude oil imports averaged 7.3 million b/d, 3.2% below the same 4-week period last year, EIA said. Total motor gasoline imports, including both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components, last week averaged 628,000 b/d. Distillate fuel imports averaged 228,000 b/d.

Energy prices

The New York Mercantile Exchange May crude oil contract dropped 41¢ on Mar. 25, closing at $99.19/bbl, while the June contract declined 30¢ to settle at $98.53/bbl.

The April natural gas contract was up 13.5¢ to a rounded $4.41/MMbtu. The April contract expires Mar. 27, and most of the trading volume already shifted to the May contract. On the cash gas market, the Henry Hub price for Mar. 25 was unavailable.

Heating oil for April delivery was up almost 1¢ to a rounded $2.92/gal. Reformulated gasoline stock for oxygenate blending for April delivery declined 0.8¢ to a rounded $2.88/gal.

In London, the May ICE contract for Brent crude delivery gained 18¢, closing at $106.99/bbl. The June contract rose 20¢ to $106.81/bbl. The ICE gas oil contract for April climbed $5.75 to $901/tonne.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries reported its basket of 12 benchmark crudes was $103.39/bbl on Mar. 25, up 26¢.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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