Updated from 11:06 a.m. EDTEnergy prices were mixed in uneven trading Friday as questions about demand levels for petroleum products lingered in the market. Crude oil for November delivery was recently up 34 cents to $61.70 a barrel in Nymex trading. Oil ended Thursday at a two-month low. November natural gas futures tacked on 1 cent to $13.38 per mmBtu. Heating oil was unchanged at $1.95 a gallon, and unleaded gasoline dropped 2 cents to $1.82. David Pursell, a partner at Pickering Energy Partners, said the demand for gasoline in the next four weeks will help answer questions about consumer buying, namely whether demand is down because people are reacting to $3-a-gallon price tags or because they're holding back in light of the damage hurricanes Katrina and Rita brought to the Gulf Coast's refineries. "I tend to believe price is more of the concern," Pursell said. "For a lot of folks, $3 a gallon is just an annoyance. For other people it has a meaningful impact on how much money they have left to buy other stuff." The petroleum sector will of course be feeling the various effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita for the foreseeable future. The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service said Thursday's shut-in oil production was about 1.2 million barrels a day, the equivalent of around 80.2% of the Gulf of Mexico's daily output. Shuttered gas production was equal to 66.3% of the daily total. On the corporate front, BP ( BP) said it would sell Innovene, its olefins, derivatives and refining group, to the U.K.-based chemicals firm Ineos. The $9 billion cash sale, which requires regulatory approval, includes all Innovene's manufacturing sites and technologies. BP plans to close the sale early next year. Cheniere Energy ( LNG) rose nearly 6% to $37.25 after the company said it will begin resuming construction at its Sabine Pass site in Cameron Parish, La., on Monday. Cheniere expects activity to return to the level before the hurricane within the next five to six weeks.
Elsewhere, Marathon Oil ( MRO) was up 4% to $62.42 after getting upgraded to buy from hold at Citigroup. The firm's price target on Marathon is $74. Noble ( NE) said the two hurricanes will reduce its net income by 13 cents to 15 cents a share for the third quarter and by 5 cents to 7 cents a share for the fourth quarter. Halliburton ( HAL) agreed to sell its Westport Technology Center to Intertek Caleb Brett, a division of Intertek, a international testing, inspection and certification company. The business and net assets of Westport are valued at $9 million, Intertek said in a news release. Shares of major oil companies were higher in afternoon trading. Chevron ( CVX), ConocoPhillips ( COP) and Exxon Mobil ( XOM) were all up more than 1%.