Oil steady as huge Gulf of Mexico storm shuts down production

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Oil prices were mixed in early trade on Thursday even as oil rigs and refineries shut ahead of a massive storm in the Gulf of Mexico racing towards Texas and Louisiana, with slim worries about the impact on supply as oil stockpiles remain high.

FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind a crude oil pump jack on a drill pad in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S. November 24, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures fell 5 cents, or 0.1%, to $43.34 a barrel at 0014 GMT, reversing a 4 cent gain on Wednesday.

Brent crude LCOc1 futures inched up 2 cents to $45.66 a barrel after falling 22 cents, or 0.5%, on Wednesday.

The hurricane threat has affected the market much less than usual, as oil and product inventories remain high due to the coronavirus pandemic’s hit to fuel demand, and uncertainty over the pace of the global recovery clouds the outlook.

“The continued rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Europe and Asia remains a concern for investors, despite several European nations saying they won’t reinstate lockdowns,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

U.S. crude inventories stood at 507.8 million barrels at the end of the week to Aug. 21, even after a larger-than-expected drop of 4.7 million barrels.

Hurricane Laura intensified on Wednesday and is now forecast to bring heavy rains and catastrophic, 150 mile-per-hour (240 kph) winds that will drive ocean waters up to 40 miles (64 km) inland, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Landfall is expected at about midnight (0500 GMT Thursday).

Oil producers on Tuesday shut 1.56 million barrels per day of crude output, or 84% of the Gulf of Mexico’s production, evacuating 310 offshore facilities.

Nine refineries that convert nearly 2.9 million barrels per day of oil into fuel, or about 15% of U.S. processing capacity, were shutting down.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Lincoln Feast.