Hurricane-related spike in gas prices ebbing

With no refineries of its own, Florida gas prices last week were the highest in nearly three years.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   Sept. 19, 2017 at 6:40 AM
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Sept. 19 (UPI) -- The retail price for gasoline is coming off seasonal highs as the U.S. refining sector returns to normal after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, AAA reports.

The motor club lists a national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline at the retail level of $2.62, down about 2 percent from last week and the lowest in more than two weeks. Retail prices spiked in early September after Hurricane Harvey forced more than a dozen refineries, including one of the largest in the country, to close down. Demand pressures later increased when Hurricane Irma hit Florida, which upended the market because the state has no refineries of its own.

The state average in Florida last week was $2.73, the highest in nearly three years.

"Gas prices are dropping as the situation with refineries, pipelines and gasoline deliveries is positively progressing," AAA spokesperson Jeanette Casselano said in a statement. "It looks like pump prices will continue on this declining trend into the coming weeks as the regions affected by Irma and Harvey resume normal operations."

The U.S. Energy Department said that, as of 10:30 a.m. EDT Monday, most Florida ports were open, gasoline shipments were timely and no issues were reported with pipelines transporting fuels and other petroleum products throughout the region. About 2 percent of total U.S. refining capacity, however, is still out because of Harvey.

The state average price for gasoline in Florida was $2.70 early Tuesday. Other regions, meanwhile, had to adjust to make up for shortfalls in other markets, though dynamics are starting to normalize. The volatile markets in the Great Lakes states are moving lower, with Indiana, Michigan and Ohio reporting a drop in gas prices of 10 cents per gallon or more over the last week.

The market situation could still take a few weeks to return to seasonal norms as refineries usually start the processes for a regular maintenance period that corresponds with the shift to a winter blend of gasoline, which is less expensive to make because fewer safeguards are needed in colder months. The government already waived some of those restrictions to compensate for hurricane-related market pressures.

Supplies, meanwhile, could still be at a premium. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported the drain on gasoline inventories last week was the highest on record and refiners are working to catch up.

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