Gas prices likely are poised for a seasonal decline given that refineries generally complete maintenance by this time of year and gear up production for the busy summer driving season. In addition, the cost of crude oil is unlikely to rise significantly in the near term given that OPEC decided not to cut production at its most recent meeting. Nevertheless, a number of factors could cause prices to inch higher during the summer driving season, such as geopolitical issues in the Middle East, unexpected problems at major refineries or a major hurricane that disrupts production, refining and distribution.
Pump prices in the Midwest recently surged due to a series of a refinery issues in the region that have limited production. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gasoline production in the Midwest during the most recent week fell to its lowest levels since late March. Meanwhile, prices on the West Coast are stabilizing due to a surge in imports that have helped to offset supply issues stemming from refinery problems.
California ($3.61) remains the nation’s most expensive market for retail gasoline. A total of seven states, all located in the Western United States, have averages above $3 per gallon, including Alaska ($3.37), Hawaii ($3.31), Nevada ($3.26), Washington ($3.06), Utah ($3.02) and Oregon ($3.02). The nation’s least expensive markets for retail gasoline are South Carolina ($2.45), Mississippi ($2.47) and Arkansas ($2.50).
Week-over-week prices have been relatively stable, moving just +/- 3 cents in more than half of the states (31). Consumers in 37 states and Washington, D.C. are paying more at the pump versus one week ago, with averages in eight states reflecting increases of a nickel or more per gallon. The largest increases in price over this period were in Minnesota (+8 cents), Alaska (+7 cents) and Montana (+7 cents). Prices moved lower in 13 states versus one week ago, and the largest savings in the price at the pump were in Indiana (-10 cents), Ohio (-9 cents) and California (-9 cents).
The majority of drivers nationwide (49 states and Washington, D.C.) are paying more per gallon than one month ago. Averages moved higher by a nickel or more per gallon in 43 states and Washington, D.C., and drivers in 19 states and Washington D.C. are paying a dime or more per gallon month-over-month. Drivers in Montana (+27 cents), Alaska (+21 cents), Wyoming (+21 cents) and Illinois (+20 cents) have seen prices move dramatically higher over this same period, largely due to regional refinery issues. California is the only state outside of this trend, and motorists in the state are seeing monthly savings of 11 cents per gallon as prices have retreated following a substantial run-up.
Pump prices continue to be significantly discounted versus one year ago and motorists are poised to pay the lowest prices during the summer driving season since 2009. Retail averages are down in every state and Washington, D.C., with consumers 45 states and Washington, D.C. saving at least 75 cents per gallon year-over-year. The Midwestern states of Indiana (-$1.25) and Michigan (-$1.24) are posting the largest savings over this same period, and the price at the pump is down by $1 or more in a total of nine states.
As expected, OPEC opted to maintain its current production levels during its June 5 meeting in Vienna, and the global oil market is likely to remain oversupplied in the near term. The oil cartel explained its decision by citing expectations of increased demand from emerging economies and the fact that recent increases in the global price have made the market favorable for both producers and consumers. OPEC plans to continue to monitor developments in the coming months and could reassess their decision at their next meeting scheduled for December 4.
At the close of formal trading on the NYMEX on Friday, West Texas Intermediate crude oil increased $1.13, settling at $59.13 per barrel.