Pump Prices Surge Approaching Memorial Day Weekend

Michael Green Contact Tile(WASHINGTON, May 18, 2015) One week from the Memorial Day holiday, the national average price for regular unleaded gasoline has increased on 32 of the past 34 days, reaching today’s price $2.71 per gallon. Consumers are paying a nickel per gallon more than one week ago and 26 cents more per gallon than one month ago. Despite the national average continuing to register new highs for 2015, drivers are still experiencing significant yearly savings at the pump and today’s price is discounted by 94 cents year-over-year, making it the lowest average for this date since 2009.

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Pump prices have moved higher nationwide in recent months, largely due to the global rally in crude prices. While consumers in every state and Washington, D.C. have felt the impact of more expensive crude oil, gas prices in several regions have seen more dramatic increases due to refinery problems.  The West Coast continues to lead the market with some of the nation’s highest averages for retail gasoline due to localized refinery issues over the past several months, which have kept supplies tight and prices tilted higher. This region is relatively isolated from other markets and is more dependent on in-region production, making it harder for the market to adjust to supply disruptions.

While West Coast prices have surged higher for weeks, prices across the Midwest have posted among the most dramatic jumps in the past week. The Midwestern increase has been due to regional production issues, including a problem at ExxonMobil’s 248,000 barrel per day Joliet refinery in Channahon, Ill. While reports of reduced output from the facility sparked sharp increases at the pump for Midwestern drivers, wholesale gasoline prices were more stable today, though the refinery may operate at reduced rates for about two weeks.

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For the 12th consecutive week, California ($3.81) leads the market with drivers paying an average price that is more than $1 per gallon above the national average. Nevada ($3.30), Hawaii ($3.25), Alaska ($3.21), Oregon ($3.02) and Washington ($3.02) round out the most expensive markets and are the only states posting averages above $3 per gallon. Motorists in South Carolina ($2.38), Mississippi ($2.42) and Louisiana ($2.43) are paying the least to fill their tanks.

With the exception of Pennsylvania, where the price has moved lower by fractions of a penny, consumers in every state and Washington, D.C. are paying more at the pump week-over-week. Ohio (+12 cents) and Michigan (+11 cents) are both posting double-digit increases over this same period, and 17 states are registering premiums of a nickel or more per gallon versus one week ago.

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Monthly comparisons reflect sizable movement in pump prices nationwide. The price at the pump has jumped by a quarter or more per gallon in 13 states, with the largest increases in California (+68 cents), Nevada (+50 cents), Arizona (+41 cents) and Utah (+37 cents).

Contrary to weekly and monthly price comparisons, motorists nationwide are paying less to refuel their vehicles year-over-year. The price is discounted by $1 or more in 21 states and Washington, D.C., with the largest savings in Michigan (-$1.13), Kentucky (-$1.13) and Indiana (-$1.12), despite the recent price spike in the Midwest.

The global oil market remains oversupplied, but market watchers are closely monitoring U.S. production and the recent outbreak of violence in the Middle East for any impact that could shift this balance. Volatility will likely continue to characterize the global market in the near term as traders closely watch the balance between supply and demand. In particular, more expensive crude could lead to an increase in production and supply, which could put a ceiling on the current rally in price.  Speculators are also interpreting the latest action by the so-called Islamic State, who seized control of the city of Ramadi, Iraq, as a reminder of regional instability in the near term.

At the close of Friday’s formal trading on the NYMEX, WTI was down 19 cents and settled at $59.69 per barrel.

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