Motorists apparently found ways to manage fuel use and travel more efficiently in the face of higher September gasoline prices following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita striking along the U.S. Gulf Coast, according to the API Monthly Statistical Report for September. The change in consumer behavior is shown by the largest year-to-year decline for gasoline deliveries in more than a decade, API reported. September's gasoline deliveries, a key measure of demand, fell nearly 4 percent compared with one year earlier.
Declines also were evident for distillate fuel oil, including diesel and heating oil, as well as for jet fuel, while deliveries of residual fuel oil rose slightly, API reported. Overall petroleum deliveries fell about 5 percent compared with the previous year. The API report noted that these figures indicate approximate changes in consumption because they measure only the amount of products that have left the primary distribution system, which includes refineries, product terminals, and pipelines Figures do not measure actual end-use.
The U.S. Gulf Coast experienced an unprecedented blow as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita both struck the nation's energy heartland in less than a month, the API report notes. By the end of September, roughly 98 percent of offshore oil production, or 30 percent of domestic output -- and 80 percent of offshore natural gas production, or about 15 percent of domestic output -- remained offline.
Septemberís domestic crude production fell 22 percent from last September to 3.95 million barrels per day, its lowest level since 1943, API said. Crude oil production averaged 4.80 million barrels per day for the third quarter, the lowest quarter in more than 50 years. In addition to the effect of hurricanes on Septemberís offshore production, Alaskan crude oil output fell 6 percent from a year earlier.
The nationís ability to refine petroleum products was severely curtailed by the recent hurricanes, API noted. As of the end of September, one-fifth of U.S. refining capacity was not operating, either from direct damage, flooding, or lack of electricity. Nationally, refinery inputs for September fell more than 7 percent short of year-earlier levels, and refinery capacity utilization averaged only 82.7 percent, the lowest for September in 20 years. In the week immediately after Hurricane Rita struck, the nationís refineries were able to muster only a 69 percent utilization rate. In the Gulf Coast region, gasoline production fell more than 18 percent for the month compared with September 2004. Shifts in production in other regions held the nationwide decline in gasoline output to 2.8 percent.
In addition to their effects on offshore production and refining, Katrina and Rita hindered imports in September because of preparations for, and damage from, the storms. Septemberís crude oil imports were the lowest since February 2003, down close to 6 percent from a year earlier to 9.1 million barrels per day. Because of higher product imports, however, Septemberís net decline for petroleum imports overall amounted to 2.3 percent. Gasoline imports, in particular, jumped 18 percent, or about 160 thousand barrels per day, from year-ago levels.
Septemberís crude oil inventories fell 9 million barrels from the end of August, the 3.0 percent decrease being slightly larger than the five-year average decline. Month-end gasoline inventories remained below 200 million barrels for the second consecutive month, ending September at 198 million barrels. They were 3.5 percent below a year ago and about 2.5 percent below the recent, five-year average for September. Distillate inventories fell 4 million barrels during September to 128 million barrels, down 4 million barrels from August, API said, but inventories were 3 million barrels above the September five-year average.