New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in October, eased 12 US cents to US$64.25 per barrel in early deals.

The price of Brent North Sea crude for October delivery fell 19 US cents to US$62.70 per barrel in London.

The US Department of Energy said crude inventories in the week ending September 2 stood at 315 million barrels, down 6.4 million barrels from the week before.

However the figure was in line with analysts’ forecasts and remained “well above the upper end of the average range for this time of year”, the DoE said.

Stocks of gasoline (petrol) fell by 4.3 million barrels to 190.1 million, much better than the 6.2-million-barrel drop expected by the markets but “below the bottom end of the average range.”

Inventories for distillate products, which include heating oil and diesel, declined 800,000 barrels to 134.4 million, against a fall of 2.6 million barrels predicted by analysts.

“Initially the market was extremely disappointed with the figures, that is they were prepared to see much larger draws (falls), particularly in distillates,” said Societe Generale analyst Deborah White.

Immediately following the data traders “started to sell like crazy but the market came to its senses relatively quickly because in fact we saw major buying on the dips”, she added.

After plunging by more than a dollar, White said prices won back support once traders considered the news that four Gulf Coast refineries knocked out by Hurricane Katrina would take another two months to resume operations.

“We have all but four refineries now back on stream and functioning,” US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told the CNBC television network Thursday.

The shut-down refineries will be “starting up, I would guess, in another couple of months”, he added.

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