NEW YORK/BANGALORE U.S. crude stockpiles are expected to have dropped last week after Tropical Storm Lee forced production shut-ins in the Gulf of Mexico, an extended Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.
Of 13 analysts polled ahead of the weekly inventory reports, only two expected a rise in crude stocks, with the average forecast calling for a drop of 1.9 million barrels in the week to September 2.
Tropical Storm Lee, which made landfall over the weekend, could have disrupted imports. That may have added to the impact of Hurricane Irene, which forced closure of several oil hubs on the U.S. East Coast the previous weekend.
"Crude imports should be down in the New York Harbor and the Gulf Coast, with maybe a little bit of output lost to Storm Lee, all helping crude inventories to fall," Phil Flynn of PFGBest Research said.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said in a report late on Tuesday that domestic crude stocks fell 3.0 million barrels last week.
Distillate stocks jumped 4.0 million barrels and gasoline stocks declined 871,000 barrels while refinery utilization slipped 1.2 percentage points, the API report showed.
In the week to August 26, crude stocks in the United States rose by 5.28 million barrels to 357.05 million barrels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This week's EIA report will be released on Thursday at 11 am EDT (1500 GMT), one day later than usual due to the Labor Day holiday in the United States.
Tropical Storm Lee shut more than half of the Gulf of Mexico's crude oil production and nearly half of the natural gas output before making landfall on Sunday.
Offshore producers started to restaff platforms on Tuesday with the aim of restarting some production later this week. About 845,000 barrels were still offline on Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said.
OIL PRODUCTS AND REFINING
Gasoline stocks were also seen falling, with the refinery utilization rate expected to have dropped after Hurricane Irene forced a number of plants on the East Coast to cut runs or close as a precautionary measure.
Gasoline stocks were forecast to be down by 1.7 million barrels, with inventories tapped as drivers filled tanks ahead of the long Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of the summer driving season in the United States.
"We expect gasoline demand to have picked up temporarily last week in preparation for Hurricane Irene and the Labor Day weekend," Standard Bank analyst James Zhang said.
U.S. retail gasoline demand rose last week for the first time in more than a month as Eastern Seaboard residents filled their tanks to evacuate for Hurricane Irene, MasterCard said in its SpendingPulse report on Tuesday.
Demand rose 1.3 percent in the week to August 26 compared with a year earlier, largely because of strong consumption related to the hurricane on the East Coast, MasterCard said.
The poll did not show any change in distillate inventories -- which include heating oil and diesel -- for last week. The week to August 26 registered a build of 363,000 barrels to 156.06 million barrels.
Refinery utilization is expected to have dropped 1.1 percent in the last week with 10 of 12 analysts calling for a dip.
(Reporting by Naveed Anjum in Bangalore, Gene Ramos and Robert Gibbons in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Bob Burgdorfer)