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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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Hurricane Irma Could Destroy Oil Demand


About half of the shuttered refining capacity along the Gulf Coast could be back up and running by Thursday, assuaging concerns about the possibility of acute gasoline shortages in much of the U.S.

The disruptions of more than 4 million barrels per day of refining capacity have been cut in half, with major refineries restarting operations in Corpus Christi and Houston. ExxonMobil is ramping up operations at its Baytown facility, the second largest in the country. Valero Energy brought two refineries in Corpus Christi and Texas City back online, with another large one in Port Arthur scheduled to resume operations soon.

The massive Motiva refinery – the largest in the country with 600,000 bpd of capacity – is still offline, but is getting closer to resuming operations. The large volume of restarts led to a spike in crude oil prices on Tuesday, with WTI up more than 3 percent. Gasoline futures fell back as the Colonial Pipeline restarted shipments.

Goldman Sachs predicts that as of Thursday, half of the shuttered refining capacity will have resumed.

But what about the rest? An estimated 1.4 mb/d could remain offline through mid-September at least, the investment bank predicts. Goldman says the lingering effects will be “modestly bearish,” projecting a 40-million-barrel increase in crude oil inventories. But the quick comeback of some larger refineries led Goldman to lower its projected demand impact from -750,000 bpd in the first month after the storm to just -600,000 bpd. Related: Oil Markets Rebound After Hurricane Harvey

However, the effects could actually become slightly bullish over time as the recovery efforts pick up, and intriguingly, there is “potential for some sustained US onshore production curtailments.” Eagle Ford shale drillers were forced to shut in some shale output as both the takeaway capacity (i.e., pipelines) and Gulf Coast refineries went offline, backing up crude at the wellhead. Some estimates put Eagle Ford output down by half at first, although data is hard to come by at this point. Goldman Sachs estimates that 200,000 bpd of Eagle Ford production “remains shut-in,” which offsets some of the bearish impact on WTI from the refinery outages. Adding in some lingering outages offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, total upstream supply outages still stand at about 300,000 bpd.

Goldman raises the possibility that the comeback in shale production could be curtailed by the sustained outages at Gulf Coast refineries, a scenario that it says is underappreciated by market analysts.

But taken altogether, Goldman says the impact of Harvey will be stronger on demand than it will for supply. In other words, in the first month after the storm, oil demand will fall by 600,000 bpd while supply will only be curtailed by 400,000 bpd. A net-bearish impact.

Things could get a lot more complicated in the days ahead with a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane barreling towards Puerto Rico, Cuba, South Florida and maybe the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Irma had sustained wind speeds of 180 miles per hour on Tuesday, which appears to be one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic. At the time of this writing, the path is still uncertain, but a multitude of scenarios have the hurricane slamming directly into South Florida by the weekend.

If that were to occur, Irma’s effects on the energy sector would be felt pretty much only on the demand side of the equation. Florida has little to no supply-side infrastructure – negligible levels of oil production and refining capacity. There is a very remote chance it will travel into the Gulf of Mexico, which would have huge implications for the region’s offshore production – most weather models have the hurricane shifting north up along the East Coast. Related: Can Russia Develop Its Shale Reserves?

The two storms’ impacts on the oil market could be drastically different. Harvey put Houston, the U.S.’ fourth largest city under water, including some 500,000 cars. Those cars are not going to be driving again, and the people who own them, in large part, won’t be hitting the roads again in the near future. But, as mentioned before, the storm also devastated the U.S. refining sector and even pummeled shale production in the Eagle Ford.

Irma, on the other hand, if it directly hits South Florida, would destroy oil demand in the U.S. Southeast for a period of time, without any impact on supply.


By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Johnny on September 06 2017 said:
    Impacts are temporarily.There was hundreds and hundreds hurricanes before and will be hundreds and hundreds hurricanes in future.Hurricanes and hurricane's impacts are not something new.
  • Al on September 06 2017 said:
    I trust GS as far as I can throw a planet....I think oil is going back up and with everything that is going on in the world, the sky is the limit...
  • Michel Metzger on September 06 2017 said:
    Strange (or maybe not) that Goldman makes such a dull prevision.
    In the very short run, oil demand may indeed dive a bit but in the middle or long run, serious destructions will be triggering reconstruction and its related positive impact on the GDP.
    As stated in a recent "Seeking Alpha" article "hurricane are bad for national debt but good for GDP growth".
  • Brandon on September 06 2017 said:
    Negligible effect on oil demand expected from Irma. You may rather want to consider orange juice price.
  • Dan on September 06 2017 said:
    Nonsense, it moves the demand to where each and every person from South Florida drive away to. Dear Goldman, they don't stop eating, sleeping under roofs and driving endlessly searching for motels and back to Florida thereafter. Seriously, Goldman got rid of the people who could think with both sides of the brain. We don't even know if it will head off into Western Florida waters knocking out all production for months.
  • John on September 07 2017 said:
    Hurricane Harvey, and to a lesser extent hurricane Irma, also impact fuel consumption by way of diverting large trucks and the multitude of other vehicles traveling cross country from the path they would usually take, to one that is less efficient (i.e. drive longer distances) to get around closed roads and traffic.

    For example, I-10 was closed from Houston to Beaumont and then Beaumont to Lake Charles. Fortunately, I-10 has since reopened; however during the time it was closed vehicles travelling from the west (e.g. LA, Phoenix, etc) to the east (e.g. Atlanta), had to divert from I-10 to another highway such as I-20, I-30 or I-40. This added some miles to the journey and therefore required more time to drive and more fuel, even if only a small increase compared to the whole distance traveled.

    In a more extreme example, traveling from San Antonio to New Orleans during hurricane Harvey would have required one to travel north on I-35 to Dallas, then I-20 east Shreveport to I-49 and then south towards New Orleans. That is a significant increase in miles driven compared to the original or normal route one would take.

    It is probably not possible to calculate how much of an impact this had to the amount of fuel consumed, but it probably had some impact and clearly one that would have increased consumption.
  • Jesus Rodriguez on September 07 2017 said:
    I live in Florida and just drove five miles looking for gasoline to purchase. I passed two gas stations along this trip and they were both out of gas. I looked at the EIA weekly petroleum report and it indicated there is a stock pile of 237 million barrels of motor gasoline. Now I'd like to know where the heck this stock pile is and what good is it if it cannot get to the consumer. Who is sitting on this stock pile or is it just an erroneous figure on a piece of paper somewhere?

    Now the governor of Florida said only approximate 33 percent of the gas stations in Florida were out of gas, but with my small sample research indicates 100 percent are out of gasoline.
    Moving 2 million + people out of the state and then back again, how is this going to destroy demand?
  • Mike on September 08 2017 said:
    I think its obvious there is a .gov cover-up.

    The US oil pools have dried up, and they are scraping the bottom of the barrel with shale, which is very expensive.

Leave a comment

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