Oil steadies as U.S. supply concerns ease but Iran tensions loom

FILE PHOTO: Oil pumps are seen after sunset outside Vaudoy-en-Brie, near Paris, France November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices steadied on Tuesday as a resumption of production in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Barry and a boom in U.S. supply from shale oil countered tensions in the Middle East.

Uncertainty about China’s economic prospects also pressured prices after data on Monday showed that growth in the country slowed to 6.2% from a year earlier, the weakest pace in at least 27 years.

Brent crude futures <LCOc1> were up 9 cents at $66.57 a barrel by 1333 GMT. The international benchmark hit a session high of $66.84 earlier in the day.

West Texas Intermediate crude futures <CLc1> rose by 13 cents to $59.71 a barrel. The U.S. benchmark hit a session high of $60.02 earlier.

U.S. oil companies on Monday began restoring some of the nearly 74% of production that was shut at platforms in the Gulf of Mexico because of Hurricane Barry.

“Crude oil is having a quiet day today after giving back some of last week’s gains,” Saxo Bank commodity strategist Ole Hansen said.

“U.S. output from the Gulf looks set to increase and … Barry failed to hit refinery assets along the coast.”

Workers were returning to the more than 280 production platforms that had been evacuated. It can take several days for full production to resume.

“You could almost hear the big sigh of relief from oil producers and refiners in the region as the storm passed without causing significant damage,” PVM analyst Tamas Varga said.

The storm will probably result in a noticeable decline in U.S. crude oil stocks this week, analysts at Commerzbank said.

Inventory data will be published by the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday evening, and by the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday.

The market was also weighed down by signs of further increases in output from the United States, which has ridden a wave of shale oil production to become the world’s biggest crude producer, ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

U.S. oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise by about 49,000 barrels per day in August, to a record 8.55 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

Market activity has started to slow as it tends to in July and August, the peak European and U.S. holiday season, Hansen said.

Tension between the United States and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program kept the market on edge given the potential for a price spike should the situation deteriorate.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran would respond to Britain’s “piracy” over the seizure of its oil tanker in Gibraltar.

“The Iranian tension … still makes any oil bear careful,” Varga said.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by Dale Hudson/Kirsten Donovan)

En route to Florida, ‘monster’ Hurricane Michael strengthens

Hurricane Michael in a satellite image taken Tuesday. NOAA/via REUTERS

By Devika Krishna Kumar

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. authorities ordered tens of thousands of people to heed warnings of life-threatening coastal floods, wind and rain and get out of harm’s way as Hurricane Michael churned over the Gulf of Mexico toward the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday.

Residents and tourists were told to evacuate coastal areas in at least 20 counties in Florida. The Category 2 storm, which has already disrupted oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, strengthened as it headed north, carrying winds of 110 miles per hour (175 km per hour).

It was forecast to become a Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale before coming ashore on Wednesday over the Florida Panhandle or the Big Bend area in the northwest of the state, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. At that strength, it would rank as the most powerful storm to strike the Panhandle in more than a decade.

“Hurricane Michael is a monster storm and it keeps getting more dangerous,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told a news conference on Tuesday. “The time to prepare is now.”

The Republican governor, who is campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat in the November congressional elections, warned of the potential for a deadly storm surge that could be as much as 12 feet (3.7 meters) over normal sea water levels.

People in areas that could be affected should take no chances against such a powerful surge, Scott said, adding, “No one’s going to survive,” such a wall of water.

As Michael moved over open water, energy companies halted nearly one-fifth of Gulf of Mexico oil production and evacuated personnel from 10 platforms on Monday.

The Gulf of Mexico produces 17 percent of daily U.S. crude oil output and 5 percent of daily natural gas output, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The partial shutdown ahead of Michael helped push oil prices slightly higher on Tuesday.

Scott declared a state of emergency in 35 counties along the Panhandle and Florida’s Big Bend regions, mostly rural areas known for small tourist cities, beaches and wildlife reserves, as well as the state capital, Tallahassee.

A hurricane warning was in effect for a more than 300-mile (480-km) stretch of coastline from the Florida-Alabama border to the Suwannee River in Florida.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had numerous teams deployed and ready to respond, said FEMA spokesman Jeff Byard. About 1,250 National Guard soldiers were assisting and more than 4,000 troops were on standby.

President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said the country was very well prepared for the hurricane, adding it was much bigger than had been expected.

Alexander Charnicharo fishes at the seafront in Havana as Hurricane Michael passes by western Cuba on October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Alexander Charnicharo fishes at the seafront in Havana as Hurricane Michael passes by western Cuba on October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

CLOSURES AND LINES FOR GAS

State offices, schools and universities were closed through the end of the week in Panhandle counties. Lines at gasoline stations grew as people left. Those who stayed emptied grocery store shelves of water and other supplies.

Regus, an international office provider, offered temporary space for rent in Birmingham, Alabama, for businesses evacuating neighboring Florida.

“If you’re evacuating #HurricaneMichael and need a place to work, come visit a business lounge at any of our 5 locations in Birmingham! #evacuate #HurricanePrep #Michael,” the company wrote on Twitter.

The last major hurricane – Category 3 or above – to hit the Panhandle was Hurricane Dennis, which made landfall near Pensacola in 2005, according to hurricane center data.

Torrential downpours and flash flooding caused by the storm over the weekend caused 13 deaths in Central America.

At 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) on Tuesday, Michael’s center was about 335 miles (535 km) south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, heading north at around 12 mph (19 kph), the NHC said.

On its current track, it would make landfall somewhere along a coastline that includes the cities and towns of Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, Port St. Joe, St. Teresa and the wildlife reserves bordering Apalachee Bay. However, forecasters always note it is not possible to predict where a hurricane will land until it is closer to the coast.

The storm was forecast to move through the southeastern United States on Wednesday and Thursday, passing through the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month. It would head off the Mid-Atlantic coast by Friday, the NHC said.

The Miami-based center forecast as much as 1 foot (30 cm) of rain in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Gina Cherelus and Barbara Goldberg in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Frances Kerry)

Storm Gordon starts kicking up waves on U.S. Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Gordon is pictured nearing Florida, U.S. in this September 2, 2018 NASA satellite handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Waves began to batter parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast on Tuesday as the region felt the first hit of Tropical Storm Gordon, which is expected to become a hurricane before it comes ashore with high winds and heavy rain, forecasters said.

The storm also caused a jump in global oil prices after the evacuation of two oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gordon was due to come ashore late on Tuesday near the border between Louisiana and Mississippi, and drop as much as 12 inches (30 cm) of rain in areas still recovering from last year’s hurricanes, the National Hurricane Center said.

Currently carrying winds of around 65 miles per hour (105 km per hour), the storm was expected to pack hurricane-force winds – of at least 74 mph (119 kph) – when it reached the north-central Gulf Coast, the center said.

High surf was already hitting Alabama’s Dauphin Island early Tuesday, the National Weather Service office in Mobile said on Twitter.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and said 200 Louisiana National Guardsmen were being deployed, along with 63 high-water trucks, 39 boats, and four helicopters.

Trees sway as Storm Gordon descends on Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @Saralina77/via REUTERS

Trees sway as Storm Gordon descends on Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @Saralina77/via REUTERS

New Orleans’ mayor, LaToya Cantrell, declared her own state of emergency and closed all non-essential government offices.

Storm surge of as much as 5 feet (1.5 m) could hit a stretch of coast from Shell Beach, Louisiana, to Dauphin Island, Alabama, forecasters said. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency told South Mississippi residents to be prepared to evacuate.

As of Tuesday morning, Gordon was located about 190 miles (305 km) east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and was heading west-northwest, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

U.S. oil producer Anadarko Petroleum Corp evacuated workers and shut production at two offshore oil platforms on Monday, and other companies with production and refining operations along the Gulf Coast said they were securing facilities.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of U.S. crude oil and 5 percent of natural gas output daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More than 45 percent of the nation’s refining capacity is located along the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the ports of New Orleans as well as Gulfport and Pascagoula, Mississippi, may have to close within 48 hours.

Maintenance crew work near power lines during an outage after Storm Gordon descended on Miami Beach, Florida, U.S., September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @ZwebackHD/via REUTERS

Maintenance crew work near power lines during an outage after Storm Gordon descended on Miami Beach, Florida, U.S., September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @ZwebackHD/via REUTERS

Last year, powerful hurricanes hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, causing thousands of deaths, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage and massive power outages.

Gordon passed over Florida’s southern tip on Monday afternoon. There were no reports of any injuries or deaths or any damage to buildings, said Alberto Moscoso, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

(Reporting Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Louise Heavens, Andrew Heavens and Frances Kerry)

Tropical Storm Gordon hits southern Florida, spins toward U.S. Gulf Coast

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico in the Myrtle Grove Estates development in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, U.S. October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jessica Resnick-Ault/File Photo

By Jon Herskovitz and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A tropical storm whipped the southern tip of Florida with high winds and rain on Monday morning and was forecast to gain strength as it passed over the Gulf of Mexico toward Louisiana, officials said.

Tropical Storm Gordon was forecast to drop as much as 8 inches (20 cm) of rain in some areas of the U.S. South still reeling from hurricanes a year ago.

The storm was generating winds of 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) on Monday as it steamed west-northwest at 17 miles an hour (27 km/h), National Hurricane Center Director Kenneth Graham said in a video briefing on Facebook.

“It looks like for the next three or four days we’re going to be having to really watch close,” Graham said, “and remember if you’re even inland you can get some of these heavy rainfall totals so now is the time to be prepared.”

Last year, hurricanes walloped Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, causing thousands of deaths, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, massive power outages and devastation to hundreds of thousands of structures.

The National Hurricane Center warned of high winds around parts of Florida as the storm passed over the southern tip of the state on Monday morning.

The storm was expected to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico, and reach the central Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana late on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

At the mouth of the Mississippi River, around the area of New Orleans, the storm could generate a surge of up to 4 feet (1 meter) and smaller surges could hit coastland along other parts of the Gulf Coast, Graham said.

“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the National Hurricane Center said in a statement.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said on Sunday he had activated the state’s Crisis Action Team as a precaution.

There were no immediate indications that the storm had affected energy operations in the Gulf of Mexico area.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Andrea Ricci)

Thousands evacuate as Storm Alberto powers toward Florida

Flooding is seen in Ellicott City, Maryland, U.S. May 27, 2018, in this still image from video from social media. Todd Marks/via REUTERS

By Jon Herskovitz and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Subtropical Storm Alberto is expected to bring drenching rains to the Florida Panhandle when it makes landfall on Monday, the day after a separate storm triggered a flood that tore through a historic Maryland town and swept away a man who was trying to help rescue people, officials said.

Forecasters said Alberto could bring life-threatening high water to southern coastal states when it slams an area from Mississippi to western Georgia with up to 12 inches (30 cm) of rain and possible tornadoes.

Flooding is seen in Ellicott City, Maryland, U.S. May 27, 2018, in this still image from video from social media. Twitter/@ryguyblake/via REUTERS

Flooding is seen in Ellicott City, Maryland, U.S. May 27, 2018, in this still image from video from social media. Twitter/@ryguyblake/via REUTERS

“Alberto has maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour (105 km per hour) which is about 10 miles (16 km) shy of being a hurricane. This is definitely a dangerous storm,” said David Roth, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Authorities in Florida’s Franklin and Taylor counties issued mandatory evacuation orders for thousands of coastal residents. Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are under states of emergency.

The storm was about 110 miles (177 km) southeast of Destin, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico coast as of 8 a.m. EDT (noon GMT) and was heading north at about 6 mph (10 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Alberto, the first named Atlantic storm of 2018, is expected to reach land on the Gulf Coast on Monday afternoon or evening, the center said. The storm spun up days before the formal June 1 start of the hurricane season.

Deadly hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean last year caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, massive power outages and devastation to hundreds of thousands of structures.

After reaching the coast, the storm will bring powerful winds and heavy rains as it moves into the Tennessee Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday, the hurricane center said. The storm, coming on the last day of the Memorial Day weekend, was expected to scramble holiday travel on Monday.

A storm surge warning was in place from the Suwannee River to Navarre, Florida, and a tropical storm warning covered from the Suwannee River to the border of Mississippi and Alabama.

Authorities in Howard County, Maryland, said a 39-year-old man was missing after flash flooding from a separate storm tore through the historic downtown of Ellicott City on Sunday. The man was swept away as he tried to help rescue people from floodwaters.

The area had barely recovered from a devastating flood about two years ago that killed two people and damaged dozens of buildings.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Houston; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Alison Williams and James Dalgleish)

Fire engulfs casino shuttle boat off Florida coast, 15 injured

A fire breaks out on a SunCruz casino boat at Port Richey, Florida, U,S, January 14, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media.

By Renita D. Young

NEW YORK (Reuters) – At least 15 people were injured when a fire engulfed a boat off the coast of Florida on Sunday, causing the 50 people aboard to jump into the Gulf of Mexico and swim to shore, local officials said.

A preliminary investigation showed the fire broke out at about 4:17 p.m. EST from an apparent engine issue, said Shawn Whited, division chief with Pasco Fire Rescue.

“The captain of the boat said there was an issue with the engine. He said he noticed smoke coming form the engine room and turned the boat around,” Whited said.

The 60-foot shuttle boat was on its way to the Sun Cruz Casino boat, a little more than three miles away in international waters. It had only made it about 100 yards from where it originated in Port Richey, about 30 miles north of downtown Tampa.

After seeing the smoke, the captain prompted the 50 people aboard the boat to abandon ship and swim to shore. Some of the injuries were from being in cold water and from smoke inhalation, said Whited.

The boat was “fully engulfed” in flames, said Dan Dede, a dispatch supervisor at Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Pasco Fire.

An official investigation will start soon, according to Whited. Several agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the City of Port Richey Fire Department and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, responded to the incident.

(Reporting by Renita D. Young; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Tropical storm Harvey heads for Texas, may become hurricane

Tropical storm Harvey heads for Texas, may become hurricane

(Reuters) – The Texas Gulf Coast was getting ready for the tropical storm Harvey to make landfall by Friday, bringing with it strong winds, heavy flooding and torrential rains.

Hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge watches were in effect for counties on the eastern coast of Texas as the storm moved across the Gulf of Mexico, where it may strengthen into a hurricane.

Winds up to 75 mph (120 kmh) and 15 inches of rain (40 cm) were forecast, according to the National Weather Service.

“Now is the time to check your emergency plan and take necessary actions to secure your home or business. Deliberate efforts should be under way to protect life and property,” the weather service said in an statement early on Thursday.

By early Thursday, Harvey was about 370 miles (600 km) southeast of Port Mansfield, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The storm may strengthen into a hurricane by the time it makes landfall near Corpus Christi on Friday, the National Weather Service said.

Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on Wednesday for 30 counties, authorizing the use of state resources to prepare for the storm. Harvey “poses a threat of imminent disaster, including severe flooding, storm surge and damaging winds”, Abbott’s statement said.

Cities and counties along the state’s coastal region distributed sandbags to residents as some businesses boarded up windows. Coastal residents flocked to grocery stores to stock up on water and other supplies, local media reported.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi issued a mandatory evacuation to all students who live on campus and canceled events.

Royal Dutch Shell, Anadarko Petroleum and Exxon Mobil announced on Wednesday they were curbing some oil and gas output at facilities in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of the storm.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alison Williams)