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Crude oil futures gain as approaching hurricane shuts in production; NYMEX WTI up at $74.82/b, ICE Brent $84.72/b

New York — Crude oil futures gained in in mid-morning trading Tuesday as an approaching hurricane added urgency to long-simmering global supply concerns.

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NYMEX November WTI was up 53 cents at $74.82/b, and ICE December Brent was 81 cents higher at $84.72/b.

US crude futures moved higher after several producers announced they would evacuate crews and shut in production ahead of Hurricane Michael. At least 20% of Gulf Coast oil production was offline on Tuesday morning. The storm was expected to make landfall along the Florida Panhandle as a Category 3 major hurricane on Wednesday.

ExxonMobil said it was removing crews from the Lena platform, which was undergoing decommissioning, and also keeping staffing of its Mobile Bay operations offshore Alabama at "minimal" levels.

Likewise, BP was evacuating crews and has shut in production from its four operated platforms: Atlantis, Mad Dog, Na Kika and Thunder Horse, the company said.

"Even though [the storm] is going to miss most productive assets, it will be a narrow miss," Again Capital partner John Kilduff said. "We are seeing an abundance of caution from operators here."

Meanwhile, uncertainty regarding the impact of Iranian sanctions on global supply continued to support crude futures.

Lower-than-expected exports from Iran during September suggested that the supply picture could tighten even ahead of sanctions next month, and added upward pressure to prices.

Total estimated export volumes on Aframaxes, Suezmaxes and VLCCs from Iranian ports fell 11.5% month on month to 1.7 million b/d in September, according to data from Platts cFlow trade-flow software.

Spreads between gasoline and diesel widened on Tuesday on the back of supply concerns following an explosion in a distillate hydrotreater unit at Irving Oil's 300,000 b/d Saint John refinery.

NYMEX November ULSD was up 1.80 cents at $2.4122/gal, but NYMEX November RBOB was down 1.32 cents at $2.0805/gal.

The premium for prompt NYMEX ULSD compared to NYMEX RBOB was hovering around 33 cents/gal, a multi-year high.

Irving is a major supplier of gasoline and diesel to the New England market as well as Canada's Atlantic provinces. But several of the plant's gasoline-producing units were already offline for maintenance at the time of the explosion, limiting the incident's impact on long-term gasoline supply.

RBOB futures, which had gained in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, moved lower in Tuesday trading as the risk to East Coast gasoline supply eased.

"The East Coast is very well supplied for gasoline, but less so for distillate," Kilduff said. "Those lost barrels could be meaningful here, so now you are seeing the gas to heat spread blowing out."

Atlantic coast distillate inventories fell to 43.1 million barrels during the week ended 28 September, 4.4 million barrels below a five-year average, according to US Energy Information Administration data. But gasoline stocks were ample, with East Coast storages 7.2 million barrels above five-year average at 69.3 million barrels.

--Chris van Moessner, christopher.vanmoessner@spglobal.com

--Edited by Derek Sands, derek.sands@spglobal.com