News

Drivers Brace for Higher Gas Prices as Oil Costs Spike

Energy
0 min read

Motorists across the nation are once again feeling the pinch at the gas pump as oil prices have climbed sharply in recent months. After a brief reprieve earlier this year, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen over 18 cents in just the last month to around $3.40 according to AAA data. Experts warn that prices could jump another 10-15 cents over the next couple of weeks alone.

The primary culprit behind the surge is the rising cost of crude oil. Both the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate and the global Brent crude have seen prices spike, with WTI crude now hovering around $79 per barrel and Brent north of $83 per barrel. Just a few months ago, WTI started 2024 just over $70 a barrel.

As crude gets more expensive for refiners to purchase, the costs get passed along to consumers in the form of higher gasoline prices. Tighter supplies and seasonal factors are also contributing to price increases at the pump.

“This week, Gulf Coast refiners began transitioning to more expensive summer blend gasoline, which accounts for nearly 50% of the nation’s refining capacity,” said Andy Lipow of Lipow Oil Associates. “That switch means higher prices are ahead.”

California drivers are being hit particularly hard, with the statewide average price per gallon already at a lofty $4.88 as of Wednesday. Refinery maintenance, lower inventory levels, and the changeover to summer blends have caused California gas prices to jump around 25 cents in recent weeks according to Lipow.

The overall lower supply situation is being exacerbated by disruptions at some key refineries. For example, BP’s massive Whiting refinery in Indiana, the largest in the Midwest, is still recovering from a recent power outage caused by cold weather that impacted production.

Historically, spring represents the start of the annual rise in gas prices as refiners transition to summer blends and demand picks up with more drivers hitting the road after the winter months. Consumer demand typically peaks during summer’s peak driving season.

While higher energy costs were one of the main factors driving an unexpected increase in inflation in February, rising gas prices take an oversized toll on household budgets. The latest Consumer Price Index data showed the gasoline index spiked 3.8% last month alone after declining in January.

Analysts caution there is likely more pain at the pump on the horizon with the summer driving season still ahead. Unless crude oil prices reverse course or refining capacity increases, American drivers can expect gasoline to remain unusually expensive compared to this time last year.

“With the industry having less refining capacity and the economy remaining relatively strong, I expect retail gasoline prices to set new records across the nation in the coming months,” Lipow stated.

Whether taking a road trip for spring break or commuting to and from work and activities, consumers have little choice but to absorb the impact of elevated gas prices cutting into other spending. Budgets will be further squeezed if crude oil costs remain stubbornly high and gasoline supply remains tight.

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