Oil Falls Below $95 as Refineries Escape Major Damage from Hurricane Ike

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Crude oil fell $7 to below $95 a barrel in early trading Monday, a seven-month low, as Gulf of Mexico refineries escaped major damage from Hurricane Ike over the weekend, Bloomberg reported Monday.

Crude futures fell on the New York Mercantile Exchange on speculation that turmoil on Wall Street Monday and a worsening credit crisis could further slow the global economy, cutting energy demand, Bloomberg said.

Refiners said preparations were under way to restart plants in the Houston area, home to more than 20% of U.S. refining capacity, following Hurricane Ike’s landfall there early Saturday morning as a Category 2 storm, the second-lowest of five strength levels, Bloomberg said.

Many refiners and Gulf oil platforms idled and evacuated their facilities Friday as the big storm approached. A total of 14 refineries in Texas and Louisiana, with combined crude processing capacity of 3.6 million barrels a day, were closed due to Ike, Bloomberg said.

Despite the oil downturn, gasoline prices rose 17 cents over the weekend, to $3.84  a gallon. according to a survey by the motorist group AAA, news services reported.

The Energy Department comes out with its weekly survey of diesel and gasoline pump prices Monday afternoon.