Oil steady as United States refining demand rises but ample crude supplies weigh

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Brent crude, meanwhile, followed WTI lower, but losses for the global benchmark were most modest, a day after prices settled at their highest level since mid-April.

Oil prices were little changed on Friday as the worldwide petroleum industry remains in the grip of Caribbean hurricanes which have pummelled the region for the last two weeks.

U.S. crude prices could continue to be supported as U.S. Gulf Coast facilities were slowly recovering from the impact of Hurricane Harvey on key infrastructure in the heart of the U.S. oil and natural gas industry.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $49.16 barrel at 0154 GMT, 7 cents above their last settlement.

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Hurricane Harvey hit the U.S. Gulf coast two weeks ago, and crude prices initially slumped because nearly a quarter of the country┬┤s huge refinery industry was knocked out by the storm, cutting demand for crude oil, refining┬┤s lifeblood.

WTI, the USA standard, declined as demand for oil from refineries has been slow to return to normal levels in the wake of Harvey (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hurricane-harvey-could-cost-190-billion-be-worst-ever-us-natural-disaster-says-accuweather-2017-08-31). US oil output dropped by almost 8 percent, from 9.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to 8.8 million bpd, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Yet another hurricane, Katia, is in the Gulf of Mexico.

Domestic US oil production in the lower 48 states was also impacted, shrinking by 783,000 barrels to 8.29m.

According to Reuters, as of yesterday, about 3.8 million bpd in refining capacity remained shut down, representing a fifth of the U.S. total.

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ANZ bank was quoted by the news agency as saying: "With another hurricane threatening to hit the United States coast, traders still remain cautious". "Imports (of oil) to the U.S. Gulf Coast fell to levels not seen since the 1990s", ANZ said.

It will take weeks for the USA petroleum industry to return to full capacity, analysts report.

"The data for this week and next will be taken with a grain of salt as the underlying trend will be obscured by the effects of the hurricane", said William O'Loughlin, investment analyst at Rivkin Securities.

Irma barreled into Caribbean islands overnight with wind speeds up to 185 miles per hour (295 kph) and was heading for Florida.

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Another Atlantic storm, named Jose, is following on Irma's heels and has been upgraded to hurricane strength by the U.S. National Hurricane Centre.

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