Like a bad penny, gas prices always turn up
Drivers are crying foul on the pump fake that led them to believe gas prices were on a downward trend toward $2 by Christmas.
Gas prices in the Rochester area fell to $2.20 a gallon for unleaded regular three weeks ago, and a drop was predicted to continue. But it pulled up short and then started to rise again, hitting about $2.50 Thursday.
Although industry observers still expect prices to take a healthy dip by Thanksgiving, they predict increases of 10 to 30 cents within the next week.
Refineries always schedule maintenance work during the traditional drop in demand after Labor Day, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for fuel tracker GasBuddy.com.
But Midwest refiners contend that unexpected maintenance is further kinking the gas hose these days, he said.
"The fact of the matter is the nation's refineries aren't getting any younger. … In some cases they've been working on resolving unplanned issues," DeHaan said.
"Currently some of the region's largest contributors to gasoline supply are seeing some of their capacity temporarily reduced as they carry out this work," he said.
Twelve refiners in the region are undergoing work: three each in Illinois and Ohio, two in Minnesota and one each in Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky. Some of the work may last several weeks, DeHaan said.
Other states that can expect 10- to 30-cent jumps next week besides Wisconsin and Minnesota are Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, both Dakotas, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Kentucky, he said.
The increases are a marked contrast to the news just three weeks ago that Wisconsin ranked fifth in the nation when the pump price dropped 50 cents in a month.
Last month, the national average of $2.34 a gallon was the lowest monthly average since February 2015.
"Drivers continue to enjoy substantial savings at the pump, but even bigger savings could be in store," AAA representative Avery Ash said as recently as Oct. 1.
"Barring any major supply disruptions, the national average could even test the $2 per gallon benchmark before the end of the year for the first time since 2009," Ash said.
The relatively low cost of crude oil was fueling the price declines, AAA's Oct. 1 report said, a factor that soon changed when that pesky major supply disruption occurred.
"A gain in crude oil prices to this week is adding insult to injury and a combination of higher oil prices and reduced gasoline output … will lead retail gasoline prices to rise as much as 10-30 cents per gallon over the next week," DeHaan said.
On the brighter side, even at $2.50, Rochester area gas prices still are 56 cents less than this time last year, according to AAA and GasBuddy figures.
As for Thanksgiving, well, what it will cost to go over the hill and through the woods to grandmother's house is anybody's guess, based on the gas gurus' reliability of late. Might be a good time to pull out the sleigh, because the horse knows the way.