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Hurricane Ike Cuts Oil Production, Hurts Insurance Companies

Hurricane Ike roared through vital parts of the U.S. oil industry, boosted gasoline prices, and probably cost insurance companies billions of dollars Saturday.

Oil company officials say they are sending workers to assess damage at off-shore oil rigs and coastal refineries.  U.S. government officials say they are prepared to release stocks from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help make up for lost production.

Concerns about possible supply shortages have pushed gasoline prices up in some areas of the U.S.  To boost gasoline supplies, the government has made it easier for companies to import fuel by suspending rules requiring certain formulations of gasoline to meet environmental standards.

Meantime, three groups of insurance industry experts have widely differing estimates of the storm's cost to insurance companies -- ranging from six billion dollars to 18 billion dollars.  

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