President Joe Biden warned against gas-price gouging amid Hurricane Ian during remarks at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on Wednesday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 28 (UPI) -- With Hurricane Ian barreling down on the refinery-dense U.S. Gulf Coast region, President Joe Biden on Wednesday warned energy companies against hiking retail gasoline prices.
"Do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people," Biden said during a White House conference on hunger, nutrition and health. "The price of oil has stayed relatively low and kept going down; the price of gas should be going down as well."
Crude oil prices account for the bulk of what consumers see at the pump and those gasoline prices are far below the $5.00-per-gallon record set earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the price for Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, was up nearly 3% in mid-day trading Wednesday and flirting with $88 per barrel, though at least some of the tailwinds were the result of an Energy Department report that showed an uptick in demand for U.S. crude oil and fuels.
Brent was as high as $121 per barrel as recently as July.
On the price at the pump, travel club AAA reported a national average retail price of $3.77 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. That's slightly higher than earlier this week, but below the $3.85 average from one month ago.
Florida's state average price on Wednesday was $3.39 per gallon, unchanged from this time last week and lower than the $3.61 per gallon average reported one month ago.
Florida, which is in the direct path of Ian, lacks the refining capacity that other regional states along the Gulf Coast enjoy, leaving state residents highly vulnerable to disruptions caused by tropical storms.
So far, however, there have been no reports of major outages from Ian and Energy Department data showed the nation's refineries were working at 93.6% of their total operating capacity during the week ending Sept. 16, so gasoline supplies should be reasonably adequate.
Elsewhere, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said about 11% of the oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico, or around 190,000 barrels, was offline as a result of the impact of Hurricane Ian.
"This small, temporary storm impact on oil production provides no excuse for price increases at the pump," Biden added.
Ian is expected to make landfall on the west coast of Florida as a "catastrophic" category 5 hurricane. In a mid-day forecast, the National Hurricane Center said Ian is expected to weaken after landfall but could remain at hurricane strength as it passes over the state back toward the Atlantic.