Hurricane Katrina, the worst of the season so far, caused 95 per cent of crude production in the Gulf of Mexico – the US’ key producing region – and 80 per cent of gasoline output to be shut off. President Bush, returning to the White House from holiday after hundreds were killed by the storm, announced on 31 August that supplies would be made available to refiners from the SPR. ‘I instructed [Energy] Secretary [Samuel] Bodman to work with refiners, people who need crude oil, to alleviate any shortage through loans,’ the president said.

However, analysts doubted the impact of the release, since the shortage is less of crude than of products, chiefly gasoline. Crude supplies rose to 321.4 million barrels in the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration, while gasoline stocks fell to 194.4 million barrels. Queues were reported at gas stations in the US as consumers embarked on panic buying, their fears exacerbated by the upcoming Labour Day holiday weekend.

OPEC President and Kuwaiti Energy Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah reacted to the price spike by promising to recommend an increase in the production quota at the group’s next meeting in Vienna on 19 September. ‘We are trying to do everything to stabilise the prices,’ he said in late August.