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Oil Refineries Escape Major Hurricane Rita Damage

The oil industry and U.S. motorists breathed a sigh of relief as Hurricane Rita left the oil refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast largely unscathed.

Texas governor Rick Perry declared that his state's 21 refineries came out of Hurricane Rita without major damage.

"It appears the refining industry, the oil and gas industry, (received) a glancing blow (hit) at worst. So, hopefully, they'll be back in production very soon," Mr. Perry says.

Hurricane Rita did damage some oil refineries near the Texas-Louisiana border, but it did not cause the widespread destruction many had feared.

Meanwhile, traders seemed optimistic, as oil prices fell by nearly a dollar a barrel in special trading sessions Sunday in New York and London. The price of a barrel of light crude was around $63.10 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange while London Brent crude settled at $61.49 a barrel.

Hurricane Rita was the second major hurricane to strike at the heart of the U.S. oil industry in a month, causing worries over fuel supply shortages and higher energy prices.

However, Rita appeared to have been far less damaging to the refining industry than Hurricane Katrina, which crippled four big refineries and drove oil prices above $70 a barrel.

Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told CNN he believes the high oil prices are a short-term phenomenon, which were brought about because of the two hurricanes.

"What's happening here is the focus is on a period of time in which we've had two extraordinary emergencies facing our industry, and looking at a circumstance that is already heavily overburdened," Mr. Cavaney says. "(High) world demand for oil, and surplus inventory is almost non-existent. And that's a perfect prescription for high prices across the world. This is not only a unique phenomenon here in the United States."

Former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson disagreed, saying the root of the problem is U.S. dependence on imported oil.

"Prices of gasoline have been going up in the last two years, dramatically," Mr. Richardson says. "In fact, they've doubled in the last three years. So, this is a phenomenon that is dependent on our lack of a national energy policy. What we should be doing is reducing our energy dependence on foreign oil, it's 60-percent."

Meanwhile, the Paris-based International Energy Agency also moved to stabilize global oil prices. On Saturday, the agency said it is assessing damage from Rita, and, if needed, will order a further release of oil from emergency reserves.