Oil Prices Edge Upward and Gasoline Rally Sputters
(Bloomberg) -- Gasoline’s rally dissipated after the operator of the largest U.S. oil-products pipeline system said it’s restarting portions of the line following a cyberattack.
Colonial Pipeline Co., a key supplier of fuels to the eastern U.S., was forced to halt operations late Friday and now sees service mostly restored by the end of this week. Gasoline futures erased practically all of its earlier gains of as much as 4.2% on Monday, and oil also ended the session little changed.
The impact of the shutdown across the U.S. will vary by region and is likely to cause fuel pile-ups, as well as shortages in the short-term, along different parts of the extended supply chain. With the conduit linking U.S. Gulf Coast refineries to the East Coast down for at least another several days, emergency shipments of gasoline and diesel from Texas are already headed for Atlanta and other southeast cities via trucks. At least one refiner is reducing processing rates in response to the pipeline outage.
“The price action has been somewhat muted so far, given the expectation that it might not last too, too long,” Citigroup Inc.’s Eric Lee said in a virtual webinar on the pipeline outage. “Bottom line, it’s bullish for East Coast gasoline and diesel and bullish for European gasoline,” while “the opposite is true for U.S. Gulf Coast prices.”
The Colonial network is the main source of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for the East Coast, with capacity of about 2.5 million barrels a day on its system from Houston to as far as North Carolina, and another 900,000 barrels to New York.
While the pipeline disruption has so far not made huge waves in futures markets, it proves ill-timed as the summer travel rush approaches in the world’s largest oil-consuming country. Over the weekend, traders were said to be securing barges and tankers to send barrels from the U.S. Gulf to the East Coast, and even seeking ships to temporarily store products in the Gulf if the shut down does last longer than expected. Meanwhile, Total SA’s Port Arthur plant in Texas is already scaling back operations at its fuel-making unit.
- Gasoline futures gained 0.3% to settle at $2.1334 a gallon
- West Texas Intermediate crude for June delivery rose 2 cents to end the session at $64.92 a barrel
- Brent crude for July settlement added 4 cents to $68.32 a barrel
Despite the muted price action in headline futures, more pronounced movements have cropped up in spot prices and regional differentials. U.S. Gulf Coast spot gasoline prices slipped on Monday to the biggest discount to futures in roughly a year. The premium for New York gasoline against Gulf Coast widened to the largest gap since mid-February.
There’s particular concern for southeastern cities where total regional stockpiles of gasoline were already at their lowest in ten years before the ransomware attack, according to U.S. government data. Convenience-store chains in places like Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, began clamoring for emergency fuel deliveries on Friday afternoon, said Steve Boyd, senior managing director at Houston-based distributor Sun Coast Resources Inc. Rack gasoline prices in Atlanta rose on Monday to the highest in two months.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has already extended the time delivery drivers can spend behind the wheel when transporting fuel, and has the option of waiving the Jones Act, which requires ships to be built and flagged in the U.S. and crewed by American workers to transport goods between U.S. ports.
- Biden said Russia has “some responsibility” to address a ransomware attack that crippled the Colonial fuel pipeline and that he’ll seek global cooperation to combat similar hacks.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation attributed the massive Colonial Pipeline breach to ransomware created by a relatively new gang called DarkSide on Monday as new details emerged about the group accused of carrying out the attack.
--With assistance from Jeffrey Bair and Alex Longley.
© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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