Refinery maintenance and global economic indicators haven't done Oklahoma drivers any favors as the price of gasoline has risen about 50 cents in the past month.
Prices in the Oklahoma City area averaged $3.59 for a gallon of regular early Monday, according to AAA. It was a penny more in the Tulsa area.
This time last year, a gallon of regular gasoline cost about $3.42 in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai said averages declined slightly in Oklahoma over the weekend, but the dip could be short-lived. The national average declined a fraction of a penny Saturday, the first time it declined since Jan. 16. It was $3.78 per gallon on Monday.
“It's been on a steady climb ever since mid-January,” Mai said. “I think it's been driven by crude oil prices and the perception in the commodities markets that worldwide, and in this country to some extent, we're seeing economies rebound.”
Mai said the latest federal report on petroleum showed supplies of oil and gasoline are ample to meet gasoline demand, which typically falls in the winter months. But refineries are switching to their summer blends of gasoline earlier than normal, he said.
“That always involves being down for two or three weeks as they ramp down, clear out and gear up to produce the reformulated fuels required by the EPA during the summer months,” Mai said. “It's a little bit earlier than usual. Typically that transition has taken place during late March, April or early May. This year it began late January and early February, and it's continuing now.”
A refinery closure on the East Coast also could be affecting supplies in the Midwest, he said. Hess Corp.'s Port Reading, N.J., refinery supplied about 3 percent of the market in the Northeast. To satisfy existing demand, wholesale customers have been buying gasoline from refineries in the Midwest.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report last week that higher gasoline prices were due in part to higher “crack spreads,” the difference in price between crude oil and wholesale gasoline. Crude oil prices that rose in December weren't fully passed on to retail gasoline customers at the start of the year.
“Even though pressure on gasoline crack spreads appears to be easing, the short-term outlook for gasoline prices remains volatile,” the report said. “Despite the significant rise in retail gasoline prices since the start of the year, a part of the even steeper rise in wholesale prices has not yet been fully reflected in pump prices.”
AAA's Mai said Oklahoma drivers should be ready for further increases between 15 cents and 20 cents through the spring until all the refinery switchovers have been completed. Gasoline prices typically peak by Memorial Day, but that could come earlier this year.
“Maybe even the peak will come earlier because the transition started earlier this year,” Mai said. “Maybe the peak will come in April or early May and then start to decline once we make that transition successfully.”
It's been on a steady climb ever since mid-January. I think it's been driven by crude oil prices and the perception in the commodities markets that worldwide, and in this country to some extent, we're seeing economies rebound.”
AAA Oklahoma spokesman