Pinch Expected After Rita

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Signs that Gulf Coast energy producers survived Hurricane Rita largely unscathed sent oil futures falling.

But analysts say consumers likely will face tight supplies and higher prices -- at least until refineries shut by the storm come back on line.

A rapid recovery for refiners hinges on power being restored to parts of Texas and Louisiana where their plants are concentrated. Electric utility Entergy Corporation says it'll be several days before the full extent of what it described as significant damage is known.

New York oil analyst John Kilduff says he's "not sure there should be a rush to exuberance here, even though we dodged a bullet." However, energy traders seemed to breathe easier about fuel supplies knowing that Rita hadn't hit oil platforms, pipelines and refineries as badly Hurricane Katrina had.

The Coast Guard says it flew over offshore oil and natural gas platforms along the Gulf Coast yesterday, and checked by phone with
refineries and chemical plants in the region. It says it heard no reports and saw no evidence of major damage.

But 16 Texas oil refineries remained shut down after the storm, and crews found significant damage to at least one in the Port Arthur area.