Frustration may be starting to mount as motorists try to gain some semblance of a toehold on gas prices that have steadily risen for a week.
Motorists have Hurricane Harvey’s effects to blame, as the storm has at least temporarily idled important refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. That has immediately translated into a sort of rolling-down-the-hill consequence from big oil companies, forced in a business sense to ratchet up pump costs to make up for the interruption. And it all hits smack dab in the heart of the summer’s final big travel period of the year, Labor Day weekend.
Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, takes a regular pulse of fuel prices across the state. He told News-Press Now on Friday that 31 percent of the total U.S. motor fuel refining capacity is down due to the hurricane.
“Supply of refined product is tight and distribution is difficult,” Leone said. “In the short term, pump prices will be volatile in Missouri and throughout the U.S. Panic buying will only make the tight supply situation even worse.”
Leone added that circumstances will become better known as waters recede and refineries can assess the damage.
Yet for those taking time Saturday afternoon to fill their tanks at a St. Joseph gas station, the resigned exasperation of pinched wallets may already be taking more of a firmer shape.
“Honestly, I don’t look at gas prices,” said John Lucas of St. Joseph while at Fastgas, 2625 S. Belt Highway. “It’s gas. We’re going to need it until everybody buys electric cars.”
But Lucas also hinted he might need to wonder about having to pay for any future gas price of around $5 for a gallon of unleaded.
Joe May of Mayetta, Kansas, who was traveling back home from a medical trip to Minnesota, also stopped at the station and said he’s displeased that gas costs are increasing.
“I like it around the $2 range myself,” he said. May happened to be in Texas a couple weeks ago and found the E85 ethanol blend of gas at $1.99. While in Minnesota, he saw pump prices hovering around $2.45 to $2.49.
“It’s just beyond me that we have a natural disaster of some kind and people think it’s appropriate to jack the prices up,” May said.
A mid-Saturday check of the News-Press Now Pump Patrol confirmed the worst fears: gas prices continue to soar. For all practical purposes, the current basement level sat at $2.24 for a gallon of unleaded gas. However, more and more stations were posting prices that settled in a span of $2.35 to $2.45.
In other parts of the state for the day, www.missourigasprices.com showed lows of $2.14 in southeast Missouri and highs of $2.71 in the metropolitan Kansas City area.
Details recited in a recent AAA Labor Day travel overview found that at least eight Texas refineries were shut down by the hurricane. The organization said gas prices would continue to expand, pending a review of facility damage, and despite the nation’s overall oil and gasoline inventories being at or above five-year highs.
The AAA said the national average for a gallon of regular gas climbed in one day from $2.45 to $2.52 on Friday. At least two pipelines, with one shipping product north to Chicago, have either been slowed or stopped because of the hurricane.
Patrick DeHaan, senior analyst with GasBuddy.com, said gas hoarding would exacerbate the situation and cause prices to skyrocket, thereby lengthening the event and causing more disruption and shortages.
DeHaan urged motorists to “try to have a sense of calm.”
Ray Scherer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer. The Associated Press contributed information to this story.