Surging gasoline prices have worn down college student Amy Dominguez's budget.
“Traveling from college to work is hard to manage with higher gasoline prices,” she said. “$40 doesn't fill up my tank anymore.”
Dominguez has felt the difference as the price for a gallon of gasoline in Oklahoma City has surged at least 34 cents over the past month.
“That's almost $5 a week more than I have to pay,” she said. “That adds up.”
Dominguez works near downtown and attends college at both the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond and Oklahoma City Community College in south Oklahoma City.
Gasoline prices usually increase this time of year as refineries shut down temporarily to convert so they can produce cleaner-burning, summer-blend gasoline. That increase tends to be fairly uniform nationwide.
This month's run-up, however, has been sharp and regional, with prices spiking in Oklahoma and other mostly Plains states.
Oklahomans typically enjoy some of the lowest-priced gasoline in the country, with a statewide average that usually ranks among the five lowest states.
For the first time in more than five years, however, Oklahoma's statewide average price is above the national average, with 29 states recording lower statewide average prices.
“It's a little bit of a puzzle,” AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai said. “From what we can determine, it's related to the rising price of crude and tight supplies due to refineries going through maintenance procedures. Apparently it's confined just to certain portions of the country.”
Oklahoma's average gasoline price last topped the national average in September 2007.
Mai said it is unusual because he knows of no problems at Oklahoma refineries.
“It's something I really can't explain,” he said.
Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Gasbuddy.com, attributes the price rise in Oklahoma to the movement of gasoline from local refineries to help with shortages in Great Lakes area.
The average price for a gallon of gasoline in Oklahoma City topped $3.65 on Wednesday, up 34 cents over the past month from nearly $3.32, according to AAA. At the same time, the national average price has added almost seven cents to nearly $3.59.
The trend has been even stronger according to numbers provided by GasBuddy. The national gasoline price analyst showed the Oklahoma City average at $3.79 on Wednesday, up 50 cents from $3.29 one month ago. Nationwide, the average edged up to nearly $3.61, up 9 cents from $3.52 one month ago.
AAA numbers are based on overnight credit card transactions, while GasBuddy gets its numbers from member submissions.
The price spike comes just weeks before Memorial Day, the traditional beginning of the summer driving season.
“I think this will probably have a lot of families rethinking their summer travel plans if they had intended to go by car,” Mai said.
For holiday travelers, the price jump may be more of a psychological factor than a strictly financial one, he said.
“It seems like a lot, and it is a lot, but when it's all said and done, it adds probably $10 to $15 to your overall gas costs on your summer auto trip,” he said. “Is $10 or $15 going to keep you home when the kids have been looking forward to a week at the Grand Canyon or in St. Louis? In some cases, that might be the straw that breaks the camel's back, but in most cases, I think families will accommodate for the increase in other ways.”
Because the price jump is not even nationwide, consumers should look at what prices are like where they are headed, Mai said. Texas gasoline prices typically are higher than in Oklahoma, but that is not the case now.
It's unclear where prices will trend in the future.
GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said the cost likely will continue to increase, at least in the short term.
“We could see another 10- to 20-cent increase in these states over the next four days,” he said.
Longer term, it's harder to see the future, Mai said.
Crude oil still represents nearly two-thirds of the cost of gasoline.
“What drives crude are primarily psychological factors,” Mai said. “Sometimes it's based on supply and demand, but more often than not, it's because Israel and Syria are mixing it up. It's a moving target.
“I've been following gas prices for 26 years. One thing I've learned is that I haven't learned anything. The rule book is being rewritten daily. Who knows what tomorrow might bring?”