The toughest stretch may be over for drivers in the upper Midwest who have been wrestling with the highest gasoline prices in the continental U.S., but it may take awhile for Utahns to see any relief from increases that have reached 40 cents month-over-month in some areas.
Analysts said one major Illinois refinery was back online and another big one in Indiana was on track to ramp up production again soon. The refineries’ ongoing maintenance issues — which helped lead to reduced supply and sent prices well past $4 a gallon— are the primary culprits for the surge at the pump in the country’s midsection.
Gas prices in Utah
Wednesday » $3.73
Week ago » $3.72
Month ago » $3.48
Year ago » $3.72
Record high » $4.22 (July 18, 2008)
Wednesday » $3.63
Week ago » $3.62
Month ago » $3.58
Year ago » $3.54
Record high » $4.11 ( July 17, 2008)
"On balance, I think the worst is over," Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at GasBuddy.com, said Tuesday.
In Utah, where the average Wednesday of $3.73 for a gallon of regular gasoline was 10 cents higher than the national average, motorists may have to wait a bit for their break.
Although "prices may tick higher in the next few days, AAA continues to expect lower prices as June continues," said Cynthia Harris of the travel services company AAA. "Prices should drop by the end of the month if refineries, particularly those in the Great Lakes, can transition smoothly from ongoing maintenance to full production."
Although Utah’s average is 25 cents higher than a month ago (and 40 cents higher in Logan, at $3.80), 30 or so states have higher averages. Salt Lake City’s average Wednesday was $3.72, but stations throughout the valley with prices 20 cents cheaper showed up in a spot check of UtahGasPrices.com and SaltLakeGasPrices.com.
Elsewhere, sky-high prices have been the norm for several weeks. Exxon Mobil’s refinery in Joliet, Ill., was offline longer than expected, Kloza said. Assuming there are no hiccups with BP’s plans to soon restart a crude unit at its refinery in Whiting, Ind., prices could drop below $4 a gallon within weeks throughout a five-state region stretching from Wisconsin to Ohio, according to experts.
"You just have one refinery issue after another. As they’re coming back on, that should be a big thing," said Phil Flynn, chief energy analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
AAA said Illinois’ average was $4.20 on Wednesday, topped only by Hawaii and well above the national average of $3.63 per gallon. Motorists in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin were paying above $4 on average, while drivers in Ohio were shelling out $3.90.
Gas prices in the five Midwest states ranked in the top nine states nationally. The lowest price was in Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson in South Carolina, at $3.18 per gallon.
With many people preparing to hit the road for their summer vacations, public anger over the high price of gas is building in Michigan. One Republican lawmaker is drafting a bill designed to entice construction of a new refinery in the state, and Democrats are questioning the state attorney general’s commitment to investigating high prices.
House Minority Leader Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills said he does not believe most gas station owners are taking advantage of the refinery issue to gouge drivers. But in calling on the Michigan’s attorney general to investigate, he questioned if there is broader price manipulation higher up in the supply chain.
Analysts said it will take a bit for the refineries to ramp up production, but the upgrades — which took longer than expected at the Illinois refinery — ultimately could pay dividends because some maintenance is being done so facilities such as the one in Whiting can refine Canadian crude oil.
"This is the busiest (refinery) reconfiguring quarter we’ve seen in a generation," Kloza said. "A year from now, you should be beneficiaries of all the cheap crude coming from Canada. It’s a little pain this year but perhaps it means gain next year."
AAA better-mileage tips
Keep tires at the proper pressure
Perform routine maintenance
Make sure fluids are clean and belts and hoses are in good repair
Avoid sudden stops and starts
Combine trips and lighten your load
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