Hurricane Matthew is wreaking havoc through the Bahamas and the U.S. southeastern coast.
Beyond the tragic loss of life and property, economists are also predicting major business disruptions related to the hurricane, particularly in oil and gas production and delivery.
"Massive evacuations are expected to expand along the East Coast as Hurricane Matthew, a major threat to life and infrastructure, barrels down," states Phil Flynn, a market analyst for Futures Magazine in an October 4 update. "For energy, the track of the storm looks to be a bigger threat to demand than supply, but in the near term it will further reduce U.S. oil supply that has fallen at a historic pace during the last five years weeks,"
"Oil tankers are being diverted to other ports or will wait out the storm and that could delay imports by as little as four days, or in some cases, it could be weeks," he added. "Gulf cargoes may end up in New York harbor but as the storm moves north, supply into New York Harbor will be challenged as well."
Those disruptions are boosting crude oil futures, which crested $50 for both November and December Globex Futures, the strongest levels since late June 2016. January 2017 futures are trading at $51, as well. Additionally, Brent crude oil is trading at $52 per barrel, the highest levels since August 2016.
Oil analysts estimate that 10 million barrels of refined oil will be directly impacted by Hurricane Matthew, with regional storage facilities at a high risk of significant damage, according to Tank Tiger, a Princeton, N.J.-based oil services consulting firm. Some storage facilities have already been evacuated, including Vitol's Cape Canaveral, Fla.-based Seaport Canaveral Florida storage terminal. That closing alone impacts three million barrels of oil and will contribute to already rising gasoline prices in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, analysts say.
The national average has risen 1.5 cents per gallon in the last week to $2.22 per gallon, ahead of Hurricane Matthew's arrival on the U.S. mainland, according to GasBuddy.com. Any further power issues should tighten supply, and drive oil and gas prices even higher.
"If there are widespread power outages, you can run into supply issues," says Patrick DeHaan, senior analyst at GasBuddy.com. "And ahead of the storm, if motorists are going to flood the pumps, that could be a problem, too."
There is some precedent for severe hurricanes and oil and gas supply disruptions. Hurricanes Rita and Katrina laid waste to much of the Gulf Coast, while also leading to a loss of 34 million barrels of oil, about 6% of U.S. annual production.
It's not just about oil prices. Tighter supply due to Matthew will also have a spill-over effect on natural gas prices, experts say.
Phil Van Horne, founder of BlueRock Energy, a leading privately-held energy solutions firm, says natural gas supplies will rise over the next few months and drive prices down, but in the short term, Matthew will negatively impact natural gas prices. "The hurricane emotion, and not facts, has driven prices up in the last few days," he says. "Traders love history, and history says gulf hurricanes drive up prices. Natural gas production in the Gulf at the time of the last hurricane was about 30% of the US supply. Now it is less than 5%."
"The bottom line is this - natural gas prices will rise in the short term and then drop when the markets realize there is a surplus supply."
For now, though, crude oil prices are up, and should be for the next few weeks as industry producers grapple with the severe fallout from Hurricane Matthew.