Domestic oil production and refinery output should return to pre-hurricane levels by November, the Energy Department said Wednesday, as repairs are made to damaged oil rigs and Gulf coast refineries.
The department’s statistical agency, the Energy Information Administration, said the recovery could vary somewhat, depending on the pace of repairs to facilities damaged by the hurricane.
It also said consumers may see an increase in the cost of heating fuels this fall. In the report, the agency said natural gas prices for the Midwest will increase as much as 71 percent, while heating oil prices in the Northeast will rise 31 percent. Electricity prices in the South are estimated to jump 17 percent.
But barring an unusually slow pace of repairs, the agency said domestic oil production should return to just under 5.4 million barrels a day in November, the level it was in August before Hurricane Katrina disrupted most of the Gulf production and knocked out ten Gulf coast refineries.
The EIA said U.S. refining capacity also should rebound with an anticipated output of gasoline and other fuels of nearly 16.4 million barrels a day in November, the same as the August levels.
Even in a slow recovery scenario a “return to normal operations .... is (expected to be) achieved or nearly achieved by December,” said the EIA in a report issued Wednesday.
EIA director Guy Caruso, testifying before a House committee examining the energy impacts of Hurricane Katrina, said the forecast will depend on the timing and pace of repairs to oil platforms and refineries.
But he added, “the infrastructure has been coming back more quickly” than had been expected.
Four of the 10 refineries that were shut down are expected to be back at full capacity within the next week and six refineries that had to scale back production were expected to be back at full capacity by Thursday, the department told lawmakers.
Caruso said four refineries in Louisiana that suffered severe damage could be out of commission for several months. But the EIA said all but about 900,000 barrels a day of U.S. refining capacity was expected to be available by the end of this month.
That estimate assumes a flow of oil from the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the coming weeks to make up for the temporary loss of Gulf production as offshore platforms are repaired.
Facilities in the Gulf region account for 1.5 million barrels a day, or 29 percent of U.S. domestic oil production.