West Coast Increases Lead Higher Pump Prices Nationwide

Michael Green Contact Tile(WASHINGTON, March 2, 2015) Significant price jumps in West Coast markets due to refinery outages and operational issues have kept upward pressure on the national average price for regular unleaded gasoline. The national average has moved higher for 35 consecutive days, the longest streak of increases since February 2013, during which the national average has increased 39 cents per gallon. Today’s price of $2.43 per gallon represents an increase of 13 cents in comparison to one week ago. The 13-cent weekly increase is the largest spike since July 2013. Although the price at the pump remains at a significant discount in comparison to this same date last year, consumer savings continue to narrow and are currently at $1.03 per gallon – 22 cents per gallon below the peak savings of $1.25 per gallon on January 26.

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Gas prices historically tend to rise during this time of year as refineries nationwide conduct planned seasonal maintenance that can limit fuel production. However, unexpected refinery outages on the West Coast have exacerbated seasonal production declines, and the price at the pump has jumped significantly higher in impacted markets. Drivers in California have been subject to the most dramatic increases. Average price for retail gasoline in the state climbed by 13 cents over a 24-hour period due to supply shortages and the impact of last week’s explosion at ExxonMobil’s refinery in Torrance, California, and the broader price impact is currently being felt in a number of West Coast markets.

California ($3.39) has unseated Hawaii ($3.05) as the nation’s most expensive market for retail gasoline for the first time since October 2012. Unlike other states, California cannot easily import gasoline from neighboring markets due to environmental regulations that require specialized fuel blends in the state. The neighboring states of Nevada ($2.79), Oregon ($2.78) and Washington ($2.72) have also been impacted by the regional production issues, and are joined by Alaska ($2.77) as the nation’s most expensive markets for retail gasoline. No state is posting an average below the $2 per gallon threshold. Motorists in Utah ($2.05), Idaho ($2.05) and Wyoming ($2.09) are paying the least per gallon to refuel their vehicles.

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Retail averages have moved higher in every state and Washington, D.C. over the past week. Consumers on the West Coast have seen the sharpest increases in the price at the pump over this period, led by: California (+43 cents), Oregon (+32 cents) and Washington (+27 cents). The price is up by a dime or more per gallon in 20 states, and motorists in 47 states and Washington, D.C. are paying at least a nickel more per gallon to refuel their vehicles versus one week ago. This trend also holds true for two-week price comparisons, where 44 states are posting premiums of a dime or more per gallon. The largest two-week increases have also taken place in California (+59 cents), Oregon (+42 cents) and Washington (+38 cents).

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With the exception of Hawaii (-9 cents), monthly comparisons show American motorists are paying more to refuel their vehicles than one month ago. Month-over-month prices are up by more than a dime per gallon in 48 states and Washington, D.C., and 38 states are registering premiums of a quarter or more per gallon. Drivers in California (+95 cents), Oregon (+66 cents), Washington (+59 cents) and Nevada (+58 cents) once again headline increases, with prices moving higher by more than 50 cents per gallon over this period.

Production concerns in California, along with the broader impact of seasonal refinery maintenance, have further eroded the year-over-year savings experienced by many drivers nationwide. Although the price at the pump remains discounted in every state and Washington, D.C., six fewer markets (40) than one week ago are posting yearly savings of $1 or more per gallon. While yearly discounts are narrowing, five states continue to post savings of $1.25 or more: Colorado ($1.35), Michigan ($1.27), Connecticut ($1.26), Idaho ($1.26) and Utah ($1.26).

Volatility remains a central theme in the global oil market, and reports of increased production from Libya and a rise in exports from Iraq will likely keep global prices on the move. U.S. production companies are beginning to scale back plans for exploration and production, and the number of U.S. oil rigs in operation continues to decrease in light of shrinking profit margins and the global market’s continuing oversupply. Nevertheless, production remains high and stocks continue to build. This abundance in domestic production is widening the gap between the domestic benchmark WTI and its global counterpart Brent crude. The gap in price, which is now approximately $13 per barrel, is viewed by analysts as an advantage for U.S. refineries.

At the close of Friday’s formal trading on the NYMEX, WTI was up $1.59 settling at $49.76 per barrel.

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