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Crude rises for third straight day on Middle East tensions

New York — Crude futures settled higher Thursday, climbing for the third consecutive day, as Mideast tensions remained in the spotlight.

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NYMEX June crude settled 85 cents higher at $62.87/b and July ICE Brent settled 85 cents higher at $72.62/b.

NYMEX crude and ICE Brent have climbed $1.83 and $2.39 since Monday, respectively, following apparent sabotage attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and drone attacks on two pumping stations along Saudi Aramco's East-West pipeline.

The attacks were followed by news Wednesday that the US State Department announced it was removing non-essential staff from Iraq, following weeks of statements by US officials that Iran-backed agents were threatening US assets in the country.

Iraqi and international oil sector officials have said there have been no withdrawals by oil companies operating in Iraq, despite reports by local media.

Iraqi defense officials say the country's crude exports are secure, despite perceived threats to the Strait of Hormuz. Nearly all of Iraq's crude exports traverse the chokepoint after loading tankers at terminals in the Persian Gulf.

Maritime transport there has been on high alert since a suspected sabotage of four tankers near Fujairah. Iran has threatened to disrupt trade through the strait after the US decided not to renew waivers on sanctions against Iran.

Iranian exports have fallen just over 1 million b/d in a year to about 1.3 million b/d in recent months, and S&P Global Analytics forecasts they will continue to fall to below 500,000 b/d in the second half of the year.

The market will be watching this weekend's OPEC meeting in Saudi Arabia, where ministers will debate future production levels.

NORTH SEA TIGHTNESS

ICE Brent futures have outpaced the rise in NYMEX crude on North Sea supply tightness.

The UK's Flotta crude oil supplies have been shut in for repairs after hydraulic fluid was found to be leaking from a valve, the pipeline's operator, Repsol Sinopec, said Thursday. The company did not give an estimated return date.

Flotta output last year averaged around 59,000 b/d, although volumes have been in gradual decline.

Also, Norway's Equinor has extended a week-long shutdown of the Oseberg oil field until Saturday, and is also investigating an oil leak that has halted loadings at the Statfjord facility.

The unplanned shutdown at Oseberg for maintenance began on May 8 and was meant to last eight days but will now last 10 days, implying a resumption on Saturday, according to state pipeline operator Gassco. Equinor declined to provide additional comment.

The Oseberg complex produced nearly 110,000 b/d of oil last year.

Statfjord is the loading point for the Statfjord field, but also larger volumes from the nearby Snorre field. The overall flow of oil from Snorre averaged around 120,000 b/d last year.

Still, additional light sweet crude supply should soon be coming out of West Africa, as Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria (SPDC) said late Wednesday it has lifted its force majeure on loadings of Bonny Light following the restart of one of the main export pipelines that was ruptured last month.

Bonny Light is one of Nigeria's key export grades, with production at 200,000-250,000 b/d.

Also, Kazakhstan's CPC Blend crude loading program for June was set to rise 331,016 b/d to 1.47 million b/d, adding more supply to the Mediterranean market.

CRACK SPREADS CLIMB

Refined products also climbed Thursday, with June NYMEX RBOB settling 4.91 cents higher at $2.0618/gal, and June NYMEX ULSD up 3.69 cents at $2.1232/gal.

The July RBOB and ULSD crack spreads to ICE Brent have risen $1.90 and $1.21 since Tuesday to $12.56/b and $16.57/b, respectively.

Inventories are on the tight side for both products on the US Atlantic Coast, home of the New York delivery point for the NYMEX contracts.

According to S&P Global Platts Analytics, the fundamentals point to strong gasoline demand of roughly 100,000 b/d this month.

Analytics is forecasting 2.5% year-on-year growth in disposable income in May, bolstered by the US Labor Department data showing increases in non-farm new hires.

Wet weather has stunted plantings this spring, delaying a rise in diesel demand this season. Analytics expects diesel demand to increase as plantings rise, and as the US economy continues to grow.

-- Jeff Mower, with staff reports, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Bambino, newsdesk@spglobal.com

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