Energy futures gained ground most of the day but ended with a slight loss at the New York Mercantile Exchange Friday. Fueling the volatile session were clashing forecasts surrounding the future trajectory of Tropical Storm Gustav and the serious possibility that the storm could carve a path through the dense oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico and onshore refineries in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
West Texas crude for October delivery climbed above $118 during the session but ended the session down 13 cents at $115.46 a barrel, and front-month natural gas ended just above even at $7.14 per million British thermal units.
Gustav is still at least three days away from making landfall in the continental U.S., and the trail it will blaze between now and then is far from certain. However, two alarming attributes of Gustav are now all but guaranteed: the storm will almost certainly make landfall somewhere along the U.S. coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and it will most likely be upgraded to hurricane status before it does so.
Forecasts from energy analysts and weather forecasters concerning Gustav's path and the threat it poses to offshore rigs and onshore refineries are widely scattered.
Some analysts say that the statistical likelihood that Gustav will score a bull's eye with a major energy installation are slim to none, and that any real risks that Gustav poses to energy markets have already been priced into the energy futures market.
However, other analysts are saying that Tropical Storm Gustav poses the greatest risk to U.S. energy supplies since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita leveled U.S. production capacity out of the gulf-coast region for nearly six weeks.
With inventories of key petroleum products like motor gasoline already treading along the low end of their five-year average ranges, a major disruption in throughput out of gulf-coast refineries could leave the U.S. economy and its consumers in a dangerous bind for weeks, if not months.
Meanwhile, oil companies are expediting the evacuation of employees from at-risk oil and gas installations as Gustav approaches the Gulf.
Royal Dutch Shell
has pulled more than 600 workers from its installations, and
are following suit.
Elsewhere, energy stocks are trending slightly lower in Friday's trading session.
is down 0.6% at $82.79,
is losing 0.8% at $86.51, Royal Dutch Shell is fractionally lower at $69.75, and Exxon is sliding 0.4% at $80.88.
U.S. Oil Fund
, an exchange-traded fund that closely tracks the performance of WTI futures contracts on the Nymex, was recently adding 0.2% at $93.55.