Oklahoma gasoline prices have dropped more than 40 cents over the past four weeks as they return closer to normal.
Whatever normal is.
The statewide average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline settled at $3.50 Wednesday, down 42 cents from the 2013 high of $3.92 set May 21.
With the price drop, the statewide average is back below the national average, which settled at $3.60 Wednesday, down a nickel from $3.65 one month ago.
“We are seeing a return to production from those two huge oil refineries in the upper Midwest — one in Illinois and one in Indiana,” AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai said. “They're not fully online yet, but the worst is over.”
The two refinery outages have been blamed for much of the price spike seen throughout Oklahoma and other states in the region.
While prices have dropped in recent weeks in Oklahoma, areas closer to the affected refineries are still experiencing higher prices. Chicago averaged $4.25 on Wednesday, down just a penny over the past month.
While Oklahoma prices have fallen steadily in recent weeks, Mai said the drop likely is not over yet.
“I think prices will continue to fall through the summer unless something happens in the Middle East,” Mai said. “That's been the trend in recent years. Once we weather the refinery transition in late spring from winter to summer-grade fuel, the prices tend to fall in June and July. We've had some exceptions to that rule, but generally over the last 10 years, that's been the norm.”
Eighteen states now have an average price lower than Oklahoma, which usually is among the five lowest-priced states for gasoline.
Besides global political issues, gasoline prices also are dependent on weather. That could be an issue this summer since the National Weather Service has forecast that the country will experience 13 to 20 named storms, including seven to 11 hurricanes, three to six of which are likely to be major hurricanes.
“That's something that could create volatility even if none of those hurricanes were to make landfall,” said Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com. “We have about half of the nation's oil refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. If were have a hurricane in the gulf, you would see offshore oil rigs and refineries shut down as a safety measure.”
It generally takes a day or two to shut down a refinery and up to a week for it to return to full capacity.
“If we have the kind of activity the national weather service is forecasting, that represents quite a bit of potential volatility in terms of getting output from refineries and getting fuel to retail outlets,” Laskoski said.