Will summer gas prices give drivers a break?

Published on Sunday, 7 June 2015 22:50 - Written by ROY MAYNARD AND KENNETH DEAN, Staff Writers

 

Motorists were stopping along Interstate 20 and topping off with fuel and buying snacks for their road trips to places across the nation.

 Though most were happy the prices were lower, there were some hoping for a rebound of prices. 

At one large gas station, San Johnson and her husband, Brian, of Dallas,  were traveling Friday to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with their four children to drop the kids off with family members for summer vacation.

“We are just taking the kids back to Hattiesburg for the summer. No real vacation for us, but yeah, it saves us some money,” she said. 

Johnson, also a truck driver, said it now costs about $40 to fill up their family car compared to $55 this time last year. 

“I am a truck driver, so I am seeing savings on both sides. I hope the prices stay down, but I’m afraid they are going back up,” he said.

At another location on I-20, Ronald and Vivian Deshotels, of Lafayette, Louisiana, said they don’t really like the lower prices. 

“It definitely saves us a little bit in the pocket book, but so many are being laid off right now,” she said.

“I like the high prices,” Ronald said. “It puts more rigs out there. Hell, they ran us out of the Gulf of Mexico. We need the higher prices,” he said.

Despite recent increases, Americans are likely to pay the lowest summertime gas prices since 2009, when the nation was engulfed in financial crisis. 

In a report, AAA stated that U.S. average gasoline prices of $2.75 a gallon on June 1 were up 71 cents per gallon nationwide since late January. But as of June 1, the national average was still down 92 cents from a year ago.

“Oil prices jumped much higher than the market predicted, and refinery problems have been much worse than usual, especially on the West Coast,” Michael Green, a spokesman for the AAA Motor Club, said.

With the lower prices, more people are coming to Tyler to visit and that helps the local economy. 

 “Tourism is a big deal to any city, but especially Tyler because it brings outside dollars into the economy. It keeps our restaurants and shops and hotels in business. When they come into Tyler, they’re bringing their money and enjoying what we have and leaving their money here,” Holli Conley, Tyler Convention and Visitors Bureau assistant vice president of marketing, said. 

A McClatchy review of AAA’s state-level data found that drivers in all states are paying less than they did a year ago, and motorists in Southeastern states substantially less than they paid in June 2014.

For drivers in Texas, as well as Florida and Missouri, the price of gasoline is 95 cents or greater below last June.

The exception to steep savings is California, still hit by gasoline production woes after February’s explosion at ExxonMobil’s Los Angeles-area refinery. The reduced output has meant that routine maintenance and a flaring event at other state refineries have effectively piled on to a bad situation to drive up prices further.

AAA predicts that as refiners around the nation complete their maintenance switchover to produce summer-fuel grades, prices will begin to drop as motorists hit the summer driving season. The post-switchover drop in June over the past five years has averaged 12 cents a gallon, and AAA expects much the same later this month.

“That is sort of a reasonable expectation going forward,” said Green. “We see the market going under similar trends ... gasoline supplies, which are already quite high, are likely to grow even more abundant.”

The Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, estimated the week leading up to Memorial Day saw the highest demand for gasoline since August 2007. It suggests lower fuel prices are enticing Americans to take road trips, something AAA’s own surveys suggest to be the case as long as pump prices remain low by historical standards.

“In many years, high demand would send gas prices much higher, but with supplies as abundant as they are today we may not see a significant increase in prices due to higher demand,” Green said, pointing to signs of cheaper fuel prices this summer. “There should be more than enough supply to meet demand this summer.”

Ms. Conely said, though no big events are happening over the next few months in the area, there are people coming to East Texas to find peace and tranquility on the area’s lakes and in state parks.  

She said the area sees a lot of visitors during the Texas Rose Festival in  October, and then during the Azalea Trails in the spring.

“But during summer, we get a lot of people to Tyler State Park and the lakes. They can come out here and feel that they’re really secluded, but not hundreds of miles away,” she said.