Oil falls to $103 as US debt deadline nears

Friday, October 4, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 40
PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press

The price of oil fell to $103 a barrel Monday as a partial U.S. government shutdown entered a second week and crude production in the Gulf of Mexico got back on track after a storm system passed through.

Benchmark crude for November delivery dropped 81 cents to close at $103.03 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The U.S. has been forced to curtail government operations after a politically divided Congress failed to approve a short-term funding measure to allow the nation to pay its bills past the end of its fiscal year on Sept. 30. As a result, 800,000 federal workers were furloughed and scores of nonessential services were halted. Prices were under pressure since energy would be needed less in a prolonged halt to government activities.

Now, Congress faces another deadline that could prove highly damaging to the U.S. economy if missed. The nation's debt ceiling, also known as its borrowing limit, must legally be raised before Oct. 17. The U.S. Treasury estimates it will have $30 billion of cash on hand on that day, but the money will be exhausted quickly — government bills can run as high as $60 billion on a single day.

That means the government could default on its obligations to service its debt — which could lead to the first-ever default on government debt.

Oil production was returning to normal in the Gulf of Mexico, where late last week several companies took precautionary measures as Tropical Storm Karen approached. The storm dissipated without causing major damage.

At the gas pump, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. fell over the weekend to $3.35. That's down 23 cents from a month ago and 46 cents lower than at this time last year.

Brent, the benchmark for international crudes, rose 22 cents to $109.68 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline gained 2 cents to $2.63 per gallon.

— Natural gas rose 12 cents to $3.63 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil rose 1 cent to $3.01 per gallon.