Hurricane Harvey threatens fuel prices, oil refineries

Citgo gas station sign FBN

A hurricane barreling toward Texas threatens to disrupt operations at refineries along the Gulf Coast, potentially throwing a wrench into fuel supplies and driving up prices.

Hurricane Harvey was upgraded from a tropical storm at 2 p.m. ET Thursday as it made its way up the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center said Harvey was “rapidly intensifying” and preparations near the coast should be rushed to completion by the end of the day. Forecasts say Harvey will be a Category 3 storm when it makes landfall, which is expected to occur over the weekend. The last hurricane to hit Texas was Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Gasoline futures were trading higher after Harvey gained strength. New York harbor gasoline rose 1.5% to $1.55 per gallon, at one point touching a three-week high. West Texas Intermediate crude oil was down 2% at $47.43 per barrel.

Severe flooding can cause refining units to shut down or even ignite fires. Two refineries in Corpus Christi have already closed, according to Reuters. Valero (NYSE:VLO), whose refineries include locations in Corpus Christi and nearby Three Rivers, said Thursday it is monitoring the storm and will make decisions about refinery operations at a later time. Citgo and Koch Industries subsidiary Flint Hill Resources, which also have refineries in Corpus Christi, didn’t immediately respond to questions on their status.

Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) said its operations in Sweeny, Texas, are experiencing no storm-related disruptions as of Thursday afternoon. The company added that it’s monitoring Hurricane Harvey’s path.

Roughly 30 refineries are scattered along the Texas coast to Louisiana. Combined, the refineries process an estimated 7 million barrels of oil every day to make gasoline, diesel and other products.

Oil production in the Gulf is shutting down, too. Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDSA), Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) and Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC) are evacuating workers from its offshore platforms.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for 30 counties, and authorities are warning of potentially life-threatening floods. Hurricane Harvey is expected to drop heavy amounts of rainfall in addition to damaging winds.