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Traders said that the dip was a result of low refining activity following Hurricane Harvey, which hit the US Gulf coast two weeks ago and knocked out nearly a quarter of the country's huge refinery industry, cutting demand for crude oil, refining's lifeblood.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $49.15 barrel at 00606 GMT, 5 cents above their last settlement.

"Hurricanes can have a lasting effect on refinery and industry demand", said Eugen Weinberg, head of commodities research at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. As of Wednesday, 20% of total USA refining capacity still remained offline, roughly 3.8 million barrels, according a Reuters report, but some refineries in the Gulf Coast we were restarting.

Late in the week, oil futures traded mixed, with Brent rising to a 5-1/2 month high while USA crude slipped on a bigger-than-expected crude stock build as the restart of US refiners after Hurricane Harvey was countered by the threat of Hurricane Irma. November Brent crude, the global benchmark, lost 44 cents, or 0.8%, to $54.05 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, with prices up around 2.5% for the week.

Crude imports fell by 822,000 barrels per day to 7.1 million barrels per day.

Harvey's impact was also felt in oil production.

But the slowdown in refining and output are expected to be temporary.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Thursday that refinery utilisation rates slumped 16.9 percentage points to 79.7 percent last week, the lowest rate since 2010.

"Most refineries are restarting and we expect a near-full recovery by month-end", USA investment bank Jefferies said.

Port and refinery closures along the Gulf coast and harsh sea conditions in the Caribbean have also impacted shipping.

Gasoline refineries were interrupted along the Texas coast, denting demand for crude oil. Hurricane Irma hit the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Friday, heading for Cuba and the Bahamas.

Another Atlantic storm, named Jose, is following on Irma's heels and has been upgraded to hurricane strength by the U.S. National Hurricane Centre. Current models show Irma making landfall in Florida by Sunday morning and soaking parts of the area with about a foot of rain.

With storm Katia about to hit the Mexican Gulf coast, there are three major hurricanes now active in the region.


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