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Oil prices dip as market grapples with hurricane damage

[LONDON] Crude prices dipped on Tuesday as the market grappled with the shutdown of some 13 per cent 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 US gasoline futures to a two-year high of US$1.7799 per gallon on Monday, although they had receded to US$1.7030 by 1158 GMT on Tuesday.

International Brent crude futures were 32 US cents lower at US$51.57 per barrel, having traded as high as US$52.19 earlier in the day.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude edged down 5 US cents to $46.52 a barrel, after falling more than two per cent in the previous session.

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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 (US closures), which is supportive for Brent," said Olivier Jakob, managing director of oil analysis firm PetroMatrix.

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

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.

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

As a result, the discount of US WTI versus Brent surpassed US$5 per barrel, its widest in more than two years. CL-LCO1=R 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 US$55 per barrel from US$60 per barrel in 4Q17 (and) to US$57 per barrel from US$64 per barrel in 2018," Jefferies bank said.