US oil prices plunged to their lowest level in more than two decades on Monday as the outlook for America’s shale industry worsened amid sharply lower demand during the coronavirus pandemic. With planes grounded, businesses closed and billions of people under lockdown conditions at home, demand for oil has dropped more precipitously than ever before.

West Texas Intermediate, the key US benchmark, dropped 41 per cent to as low as $10.77 (£8.50) amid fears that America’s oil storage capacity will fill up within weeks, forcing production to stop. Turning off production can be costly for oil producers, meaning they have kept pumping out crude, while refiners who split it into petrol and diesel, as well as the commodity’s other constituent parts, have cut back on activity.

As a result, storage capacity has filled up rapidly, particularly in the US where much of the industry is far from the sea and therefore reliant on pipelines and storage facilities. Some of the price decline has been passed on to drivers with petrol prices in the UK dipping to 11p a litre over the past month, but the AA said retailers had been slow to deliver the benefits.

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