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Oil Futures Sink Below $71

Natural gas tacks on 1 cent to $6.88 per million British thermal units.

Crude oil futures took a serious spill Thursday at the New York Mercantile Exchange, while natural gas managed to eke out a gain.

September West Texas intermediate crude plummeted $2.37, or more than 3%, to $70.96 a barrel. Reformulated gasoline lost 3 cents to about $1.98 a gallon, and heating oil fell 5 cents, also to around $1.98 a gallon.

Natural gas tacked on 1 cent to $6.88 per million British thermal units.

The Nymex floor session wrapped up as every other major U.S. market was still being hit hard. Stocks recovered in the last hour. For crude oil though, it's now at levels last seen in late June.

The slide in energy futures occurred even while the first major storm concerns of the year build. Hurricane Dean, currently situated approximately 250 miles east of Barbados, is moving westward and potentially could impact the Gulf of Mexico.

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However, Edward Meir, analyst at Man Financial, says that hurricane forecasts, especially this far out, are traditionally unreliable to trade upon. "The considerable uncertainty associated with forecasts, unless the system is close enough, makes the proposition of ramping up prices in anticipation of a strike even more dicey."

A spokesperson at

BP

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said that it is monitoring the situation in the Gulf carefully and, if necessary, will issue a safety announcement concerning its workers there on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration released natural gas inventory figures that were mostly in line with analyst estimates. Inventories grew by 21 billion cubic feet during the previous week. Analysts had predicted a 25 bcf injection.