A Mobil gas station in LA’s Silverlake neighborhood on March 22, 2022.
Dania Maxwell/Getty Images
Nationwide, gas prices have continued to plateau after last week’s record high. The average price at the pump on Wednesday was about $4.24 a gallon, according to AAA, where it’s hovered since Monday.
But that reprieve isn’t being felt in Los Angeles County, where gas is averaging $6.02 a gallon, a record for the nation’s most populous county. Mechanical issues at refineries in California have lowered supply, driving up prices throughout the state. In addition, California is one of the first states to switch over to pricier summer gas blends.
As demand increases with warm weather, and more regions adopt summertime blends, price hikes are likely to return to regions across the US.
Here’s what you need to know about gasoline prices, including how high they could go, how the Ukraine crisis and other factors are affecting them, and what the Biden administration is doing about it.
How high will gas prices go?
The national average for a gallon of regular gas on Wednesday is $4.24, down from last week’s record high of $4.33 but still 69 cents more than a month ago and $1.36 higher than this time last year.
California continues to lead the nation at nearly $5.85 per gallon, with an average near or above $6 in San Luis Obisbo, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County and other regions. Nevada and Hawaii, meanwhile, have crossed the $5 threshold.
Analysts say drivers should expect another uptick as companies switch to summer blends of gasoline. In the warmer-weather months, gasoline is reformulated to prevent excessive evaporation. More expensive to refine and distribute, these summer blends can cost 25 to 75 cents more than winter blends.
The Environmental Protection Agency requires stations to sell 100% summer-blend gasoline through Sept. 15. That, along with themore people returning to the office and other ongoing factors, is impacting everything from trucking costs to .
A price of $4.50 a gallon nationwide “certainly could be a future possibility as long as there is conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” Patrick de Haan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis, said in a statement.
A gallon of gasoline could average between $5 and $6 per gallon throughout the summer, Scott Shelton, an energy specialist at commodity investment broker ICAP, told Fortune, “with diesel prices even higher.”
There’s been a slight decrease in demand recently, though, right when gas usage usually increases. This may reflect what’s known as demand destruction, when prolonged high prices cause drivers to change their behavior. In a survey by AAA, 59% of motorists said they’d alter their driving habits when gas hit $4 a gallon, which it first did on March 7.
Three-quarters of respondents said that if gas hit $5 a gallon — as it has in California, Nevada and Hawaii — they’d “need to adjust their lifestyle” to offset the cost.
What’s making gas prices rise?
The price of gas is inextricably linked to the cost of crude oil, which it’s refined from. Every $10 increase in the cost of a barrel of crude adds almost a quarter to the price of a gallon at the pump.
President Biden announcedas part of ongoing sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. The UK will be “phasing out” Russian energy products, excluding gasoline, and the European Commission has committed to slashing gas imports from Russia by two-thirds in 2022.
Even though the US doesn’t import much crude from Russia, oil is traded on a global market. Any ripple impacts prices all over the world.
The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in Los Angeles County is now more than $6 a gallon, a record for the city and the highest in the nation.
Zeng Hui/Xinhua/Getty Images
The US Energy Information Administration predicts Brent crude, the international benchmark, will stay above $100 for the remainder of 2022.
Troy Vincent, senior market analyst at energy analysis firm DTN, says the situation in Ukraine isn’t the sole cause of inflated fuel prices.
Demand for gas plummeted during the pandemic, causing oil producers to pump the brakes on production. Even though demand is nearing pre-pandemic levels, OPEC nations, US companies and other producers are still gun-shy about increasing production.
“We’ve had a supply-and-demand imbalance for a while,” Vincent said. “And it will remain, regardless of whether this conflict goes away,” he said.
When will gas prices go down?
Gas prices will likely continue to rise in fits and starts for the next few months, if not longer, experts say. When they stop depends greatly on how the situation in Ukraine unfolds.
“It’s hard to give any assurances on where we’re going, how high we’ll get and when we’ll get there,” GasBuddy’s de Haan said in a video update earlier this month. “We really don’t know at this point what will happen and what escalation could happen next to drive oil prices up again.”
At least the extra costs associated with summer gasoline will abate in September, when stations can return to cheaper winter blends.
US President Joe Biden is releasing barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to offset rising gas demand.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
The United States and other members of the International Energy Agency have released 60 million barrels of oil from their strategic reserves, with half coming from the US. Biden has also encouraged US companies to increase drilling and production: In 2021 alone, Biden approved 25% more gas and oil drilling permits than President Donald Trump did in his first year in office.
There’s also the option of getting energy products from other sources: The US has been working at improving relations with Venezuela, which has been banned from selling oil to the US since 2018, and negotiating another nuclear nonproliferation treaty with Iran, which would bring Iranian oil back onto the market.
How can consumers save at the gas station?
There’s not much we can do to change the price of gas, but drivers can cut down on unessential trips and shop around for the best price, even crossing state lines if it’s not inconvenient.
Apps likescan for the best gas prices in your region. Others, like , track your car’s gas mileage and can help determine if it’s getting decent fuel economy. In addition, many gas station chains have loyalty programs, and that give cash back for gas purchases.
DTN’s Vincent advises against hoarding gas or other extreme measures but encourages budgeting more for gas. High energy prices have been a major contributor to inflation for a while, he said, and won’t be going away immediately.
“When the cost of crude rises, prices at the pump tend to reflect it very quickly,” he said. “But gas prices tend to linger higher longer even when crude falls.”
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