The highest gas prices ever for this time of year are about to go skyward yet again, thanks to Mother Nature.
Tropical Storm Isaac, which is making its way through the Gulf of Mexico and expected to make landfall in Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane later this week, is forcing the closure and evacuation of a number of refineries in the Gulf, a region that makes up close to a quarter of the U.S.’s crude-oil production and about 40% of the country’s refining capability.
U.S. gasoline futures rose by 2% on Monday, reaching their highest point since April, and many huge Louisiana refineries have already shut down or are in the middle of doing so, including Marathon Petroleum, Chevron and Phillips66, according to Reuters. What does that mean for travelers hitting the road this Labor Day weekend, and for drivers for weeks to come? Almost certainly higher prices, at least temporarily.
A story in USA Today suggests that average prices, now at $3.75, could hit $3.90 in the very near future:
“We’re definitely going to see a bump,” says Brian Milne of energy tracker Telvent DTN. “We’re going to get into the $3.80s at minimum and it could go higher, depending on how quickly things are resolved.”
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But it’s not just temporary refinery closures that will push prices up. Drivers are driving them up, too.
Oftentimes when a hurricane is imminent, residents in the area panic and rush to the nearest gas station to fill up. The panic-stricken run on gas can make a fuel shortage even worse, and while it’s natural for residents to want to ensure they’ve got enough gas for several days or even weeks after a storm, sometimes alarmed drivers will fill up unnecessarily. According to gasbuddy.com:
“Many consumers feel insecure if their vehicle has half a tank of gas or less … But unless you actually have to travel a long distance immediately – by car – there is no logical reason to create a stampede to the gas stations and convenience stores just so you can buy gas that will quietly sit in your car in your driveway or garage. Don’t become part of the problem.”
The rise in gas prices should be temporary. The soon-to-be hurricane, which could turn into a Category 2 by the time it hits Louisiana, isn’t expected to seriously damage any of the Gulf’s oil facilities. And once refineries get back online and we get further into fall away from peak driving season, prices should gradually drop. But if you’re looking to take one last road trip before the summer’s out, it may turn out to be one of the costliest you’ve ever taken.