Pump prices across Arkansas have jumped nearly 25 cents over the past week as Hurricane Irma approaches the Florida coast, prompting fears of gas shortages and price-gouging that could spike fuel costs even further in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s rampage on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast.
At $2.65, the national gas price average is 27 cents more expensive on the week. Motorists in 26 states are paying 25 to 44 cents more for a gallon of unleaded compared to seven days ago, said AAA spokeswoman Jeannette Casselano. In fact, every state in the country has seen gas prices increase except for Alaska, Idaho, Hawaii and Utah, where prices remain stable.
Overall, gas prices are pennies away from topping the highest price that Americans have paid for a gallon of gas in more than two years, going back to August 2015. Casselano said there is an increasing chance the Florida peninsula and the rest of that state may see some impact this weekend from Category 5 Hurricane Irma as the storm’s changing directional track could alter gasoline forecasts for the coming week.
“AAA will continue to monitor Irma’s path and the potential impact the hurricane could have on residents in the area, as well as the refineries, pipelines and supply distribution components,” Casselano said.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is reporting that eight Gulf Coast refineries are in the process of restarting, which accounts for about 10% of Gulf Coast refining capabilities. At its peak, Harvey shuttered 27% of U.S. processing capacity, but none of those refineries have returned to normal production rates and four are now operating at reduced rates. In addition, Magellan and most other Gulf Coast pipelines forced to take pre-cautionary shut downs caused by Harvey have either have resumed operations or are in the process of coming back online.
“News of refineries starting up is very promising, especially for areas that have felt tightened supply levels over the last 10 days, but we aren’t in the clear yet,” Casselano said. “Consumers will continue to feel pain at the pump stemming from Harvey with gas prices potentially increasing an additional five to ten cents in the week ahead.”
The AAA spokeswoman said states in the south, southeast and mid-Atlantic are most likely to see the biggest surges as these states receive the bulk of their supplies from the Gulf Coast.
“They could even see an additional surge if Hurricane Irma hits Florida this weekend. The good news is consumers will see relief from the gas price spike towards the end of this month,” she said.
Fuel prices in Arkansas have jumped from $2.17 to nearly $2.41 for a gallon of regular unleaded in the past seven days, the highest one week increase this summer. Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas have the lowest prices at $2.34 and $2.36 per gallon, respectively, while costs to fill up in the Little Rock metropolitan area have jumped 25 cents to $2.39 per gallon over the last week, according to AAA. Pump prices in Texarkana and Pine Bluff are averaging about $2.44 and $2.45, respectively, for a gallon of regular unleaded.
Industry analysts say prices may continue to ratchet up after hurricane season well into the holiday season as most U.S. refineries begin later this month to switch over to winter fuel blends, which are more expensive to refine that summer grade gasolines.