Oil prices fall below $70 a barrel as signs that tropical storm will bypass Gulf of Mexico

Tuesday, August 29th 2006, 11:01 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Oil prices fell sharply for the second straight day on Tuesday, dipping below $70 a barrel as Tropical Storm Ernesto veered away from the oil and gas region of the Gulf of Mexico.

Light sweet crude for October delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 91 cents to $69.70 a barrel. The fall extended a $1.90 drop on Monday.

In other Nymex trading, natural gas futures fell 30 cents to $6.17 per 1,000 cubic feet, while gasoline futures were steady at $1.785 a gallon.

October Brent crude at London's ICE Futures exchange dropped 86 cents to $69.96 a barrel.

BNP Paribas Commodity Futures broker Tom Bentz said that the market is breathing a little bit easier because the summer driving season is coming to an end, Tropical Storm Ernesto is not threatening Gulf output and domestic supplies are adequate.

"The market was overbought," he said.

Concerns about threats to supply were further eased when BP PLC said it had restored output from its Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska to about 200,000 barrels a day, half the daily production capacity.

Still, traders remain anxious about Iran's diplomatic stand-off with the West over its nuclear program. They are concerned that Iran, the world's fourth-biggest oil producer, could block oil exports if the United Nations imposes sanctions over its nuclear program. Tehran faces a Wednesday deadline to halt uranium enrichment or face possible economic and diplomatic sanctions, but has so far refused any immediate suspension of its nuclear program.

Iran is a leading global oil exporter and has made threats in recent months to choke off the Strait of Hormuz -- where some 20 percent of the world's supply passes through every day -- in retaliation for sanctions.

Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer said Iran is "the single largest political risk" to the oil market in terms of the likelihood that supply could be taken off the market at some point, the near-term timeframe in which something could happen and the potential scale of the impact.

"There are a lot of cards they can play," Bremmer said, including disrupting oil production and transport in southern Iraq and taking a small amount of their own oil off the market.