Monthly Archives: April 2014

Gas Prices Lurch Again As Summer Driving Season Nears

Gas Prices Hit Levels Not Seen Since March 2013

April 28, 2014 gas price trendThe price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas went up for the 12th consecutive week, bringing the average national price to slightly more than $3.71, the highest fuel prices have been in almost 14 months. The new figures were released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration as part of the agency’s weekly fuel price survey. For many drivers, the price of gas has either approached or far surpassed the $4.00 per gallon mark, particularly in urban areas an on the west coast of the U.S.

Drivers in Chicago are paying an average of $4.03 per gallon, while further west, in California, commuters in San Francisco are paying an average of $4.27. In Los Angeles, the price is $4.33, on average. Drivers on the east coast are enduring much the same fate, with the average New Yorker paying about $3.78 per gallon. Drivers in Miami were paying an average of $3.83 per gallon, and some stations in Fort Lauderdale, where is based, were charging $3.95.

Russian Sanctions Impact Oil Deals And Possibly Turnpike Gas Prices

NY Times photograph of Mr. Igor I. Sechen and Pres. Vladimir Putin

ExxonMobil’s point man cutting a deal: Igor I. Sechen shakes hands with Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin in a celebrated contract that will, at least for now, be in abeyance. Mr. Sechen is one of several Russian people targeted by new U.S. sanctions that have created complications for the energy sector. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev via New York Times.

New sanctions against Russia and, in particular, many of the monied inner-circle of President Vladimir Putin have pushed energy prices higher, once again. Investors bid higher on futures contracts for West Texas Intermediate on Monday, after the Obama Administration announced new sanctions that hit Russia’s energy sector hard. WTI for June was again moving higher Tuesday, with prices up $1.28 in early trading.

Among the Russian businessmen hit by new sanctions is Igor I. Sechen, the head of the state-owned Rosneft, which happens to have contracts in the United States with ExxonMobil. Mobil operates fuel stations on the tollways in Illinois. However, many of the turnpikes across the eastern seaboard are operated by Sunoco, which has a presence in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Shell operates stations on the Florida’s Turnpike.

It was unclear how the sanctions would continue to affect business deals and, consequently, gas prices for consumers. The New York Times reported late Monday the leaders of many American and European oil companies had been working various contract deals for new oil exploration with Mr. Sechen, including direct conferences with Mr. Sechen and President Putin. Shell and ExxonMobil both conduct their own exploration and drilling, according to their investor websites. That could insulate both companies against some of the short-term price changes in crude.

However, Sunoco’s investor website reports that company buys its crude on the open market, which could make Sunoco more susceptible to fluctuations of WTI and its foreign-oil counterpart, Brent Light Sweet Crude.

Crude Oil Versus Gasoline Futures

No futures market has as much direct impact on consumers as the price of gasoline futures, which are up significantly in the past month, alone. Contracts for May delivery were at $2.81 per gallon on April 1, but as of midday on April 29, the contract was selling for nearly $3.05 per gallon. Current gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange, NYMEX, are at their highest levels of the past three years, according to NYMEX historical data.


Gas Prices Reach Nine Month High On New Surge

Gas Peeks Above $4.00 On West Coast As 2014 Price Hikes Continue

April 21, 2014 gas price trendNot since the July 22, 2013 fuel survey have gas prices been so high; in fact, the current survey from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows the price of a gallon of regular unleaded is only one-tenth of a penny less than it was nine months ago, when prices were rising amid prospect of U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war. Of course, that number is the national average, and some prices at the regional level are much higher than the broader U.S. figure. As it stands, the price of gas is now $3.68 per gallon at the national level. What is worse, at least one region, the West Coast, now has figures, officially, above $4.00 per gallon for the first time since March of 2013.

The news for truckers turned sour during the past week, as well, as the price of diesel also rose about 2¢ per gallon to $3.97. Diesel had been holding stead or declining in most regions of the U.S. in recent weeks, defying the broader consumer price trend.

Futures Prices Fluctuating Wildly, Adding To Gas Price Volatility

Uncertainty in overseas markets, particularly with the persistent Ukraine crisis, have created a certain volatility in the futures markets, including the price of West Texas Intermediate. WTI futures were down about $2.00 per barrel in late morning trading Tuesday, but that was after hitting fresh highs on Monday that pushed the commodity to levels not seen since the beginning of March. At that time, the WTI flirted with $105 per barrel, but the price spikes were transient, only touching upon price levels were last seen during the summer of 2011. So far, April’s upward run in the WTI index has been more persistent.

The price increases in WTI have come despite the fact there has been an increase in crude oil stocks in recent weeks. That increase has had many analysts predicting futures prices would begin to decline. Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York, told Bloomberg News this morning that the recent expansion of crude stocks was causing some bearishness in futures markets. “The market is moving lower on expectations that we’ll get another supply build in tomorrow’s report,” Yawger told Bloomberg. As reported last week, Yawger is one of many energy analysts who have expected futures prices to turn lower, which could lead to a decline in gasoline prices once summer gets underway.

Crude Oil Data Only One Factor To Consider In Price Analysis

EIA gasoline supply chart

U.S. gasoline supplies have fallen dramatically in recent weeks, all while consumer demand has been going in exactly the opposite direction. Chart:

Yawger’s analysis may be inspired, in part, by the fact this is the time of year when crude inventories usually peak. Refineries have been taking on new crude stocks in order to produce more summer fuel blends, but the crude stocks only tell a part of the story. The latest weekly petroleum report from the EIA shows overall refined gasoline stocks are down in recent weeks, exactly the opposite of the crude oil stocks. In fact, total gasoline stocks are down about 5% from their levels at this time last year, while the demand for gas is up. The EIA’s tracking data show the demand for consumer gasoline is up almost 5% versus this time last year, exactly the opposite of the gasoline stock data.

Furthermore, the anticipated duration of the current supply of refined gasoline and crude oil is  less than it was at this time last year. Finally, the mid-spring is the time when crude oil stocks have traditionally reached their highest levels before falling throughout the summer months, according to the last two-years’ worth of data from the EIA. That means the current spate of stockpile increases could be coming to an end with the arrival of May. Predicts Continued Price Increases During Short Term

Overall, the major factors contributing to gas prices do not portent well for consumers. There remains significant political uncertainty overseas, which has contributed to the price hikes in crude oil, both WTI and Brent Light Sweet Crude. Add to that the lower overall supply of refined gasoline and higher consumer demand, and the pricing trend is likely to conspire against consumers for the next several weeks. Overall, gas prices are likely to continue rising through the late spring, at least. Depending on how Europe prepares for a potential fuel supply shortage amid the Ukraine crisis, those fuel price increases could continue into next fall.


Exits From Florida’s Turnpike To Temporarily Close For Construction

I-4 Interchange In Orlando Gets Major Makeover As Drivers Get Big Detour And Truckers Lose Parking Lot

Overnight travel in Orlando will become a little inconvenient at the end of April as construction crews make changes to the interchange of Interstate 4 and the Florida’s Turnpike, according to Florida’s Department of Transportation. FDOT released a satellite map today showing the areas of detour, further announcing that some ramps from the turnpike to I-4 would be closed overnight April 27 through May 2. Additionally, truckers will have to abandon the tandem parking lot during the early morning hours on April 27 and 28 while new roadways signs are installed at the interchange.

The Exit 259 ramps from the turnpike, both north- and southbound, will be closed,” wrote Christina Deason of the FDOT. “All exiting traffic [will be ] detoured to Exit 255 (Consulate Drive), for SunPass customers, or Exit 254 (US 17-92/441) for cash customers to reach I-4 via the westbound Beachline Expressway (SR 528).”

Deason noted that drivers on I-4 will still be able to get onto the turnpike. However, drivers traveling westbound on I-4 who want to get onto Florida’s Turnpike could experience delays from I-4’s Exit 77, she said. 

Truckers Losing Tandem Trailer Lot For Two Nights

Construction closures and detours for I-4 and Florida's Turnpike

Truckers and haulers who normally can take advantage of the tandem trailer parking lot, which is adjacent to the turnpike ramps, will not be able to park overnight on April 27 and 28 because of the installation of new sign trusses. However, FDOT stated the overnight closures will only be effective between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., and single trailers will still be able to access the lot from Interstate 4.

Gas Prices Surge, Making Driving Ever More Expensive

Gas Prices Officially At Levels Not Seen Since July 2013

weekly gas price trendThe average price of a gallon of gas jumped a nickel per gallon over the past week, according to the latest survey from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The latest EIA survey shows the a gallon of unleaded is now $3.65 at the national level, a surprising leap even amid the backdrop of rising crude oil prices and tighter crude inventories in the United States. For drivers on the West Coast of the United States, the news is even more grim, with the cost of a gallon of gas jumping nearly 10¢ per gallon over the past week. While the official cost of fuel in all regions is still under the critical $4.00 threshold, the actual price that many consumers are paying is already in excess of that dubious benchmark, particularly in California. 

Regional Prices Do Not Tell The Local Story

While prices average out at certain regional levels, locally, drivers typically pay much higher prices. This is especially true in urban areas. For instance, on the West Coast, the EIA survey shows gas prices are $3.98 per gallon. However, drivers in Los Angeles are paying an average of $4.28 per gallon for gas, and the retail price in San Francisco now averages $4.14. In Chicago, the cost of a gallon of gas is now $4.07, even though the regional price point is much lower, at $3.63 per gallon across the balance of the Midwest. The same is true in Florida, part of the lower Atlantic Region, where the average per gallon price is $3.60, below the national average. However, the average price of regular unleaded in $3.87 in Miami. In Fort Lauderdale, some stations are charging even more.

Local gas price comparisons

The regional versus local disparity: At left is a sign showing gas prices outside of Austin, Texas, on April 11, where the price reflected was 12¢ lower than the regional average. At right, a price point at a Fort Lauderdale, Florida station on April 6, where prices were 33¢ higher than their regional average.

That trend does not always hold true, however. In Texas, which is part of the Gulf Region, the average price of fuel is about $3.47, but there are many stations charging less. In some suburbs of Austin, the price is as low as $3.35 per gallon, which is likely a relief for drivers who commute between towns like Round Rock, Georgetown, Pflugerville and the heart of Austin, itself.

Crude Prices Remain High, But Relief May Be Coming

Domestic crude oil prices remained well above $100 per barrel over the past week. Current trades of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) are for May delivery, and it is possible the current retail price surges are due, in part, to anticipation of the increased costs retailers will have to pay for refined fuels. Energy companies are already refining their fuel for summer blends of gas, which are typically more expensive, but the added pressure from the futures markets has likely exacerbated the situation.

However, Bloomberg was reporting at midday Tuesday that U.S. domestic crude supplies may have grown during the past week. That helped bring WTI down from its five-month highs. Renewed oil production and shipments from Libya have also helped ease futures prices. Even so, WTI is more than $10 per barrel higher than it was just after Thanksgiving 2013, after closing over $104 per barrel Monday. Prices were trading around $103.80 early Tuesday afternoon.

However, escalating tensions in Ukraine sparked renewed fears this week that there could be energy supply disruptions in Europe. Military clashes in the east have sparked fears of a potential showdown with Russia and Ukrainian separatists who wish to join Russia. quoted John Kilduff, a partner at New York’s Again Capital LLC, as saying there are elements in place that could push WTI lower, but upward pressure remains on Brent. Again Capital is a hedge-fund that focuses on energy. “Prices are elevated due to geopolitical risks,” he said. Kilduff told Bloomberg the Ukrainian tensions could keep Brent elevated, though he was not quoted as saying that could have a ricochet effect on WTI.


Gas Prices Hit New Highs For 2014

Weeks Of Gas Price Increases Bring Cost Within Striking Distance Of $4.00 Per Gallon In Some Areas

weekly gas price trendThe cost of a gallon of gas just went up for the ninth consecutive week, bringing the average gas price in the United States to $3.60 per gallon, the highest it has been in 2014 and the highest national average since the September 2, 2013 survey from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This week’s survey shows the current national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded went up nearly 2¢ per gallon, bringing the current cost of fuel to nearly the same point it was a year ago. That effectively erases the year-over-year gains drivers had enjoyed as recently as two months ago. As it stands, prices are almost exactly where they were at the end of summer last year, and there is no indication a break will come any time soon for drivers.

Bad News As 2014 Summer Driving Season Approaches

The current spate of price increases has been predicted by since the middle of February, based upon a host of factors that emerged in defiance of earlier government forecasts, which had predicted gas prices would decline through 2014. While only the second quarter has started, current circumstances show the price of gas will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

NYMEX trading floor

Trading floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange, where WTI is traded. File photo source: Getty Images.

For one, crude oil spiked to a new high for the year as West Texas Intermediate closed well above $102 per barrel Tuesday, the highest it has been in about a month. Part of the rise was investor speculation about oil inventories going to the Cushing, Oklahoma storage facility, which have declined for a tenth consecutive week. While a significant amount crude oil going to refineries is now able to bypass the Cushing storage facility, WTI contracts are traded off supplies at the facility. Crude supplies at Cushing are currently down 35%, according to the EIA.

The tight supply issue is further complicated by an exacerbated Ukraine crisis, which has flared up once more. Russia has warned Ukraine to halt military exercises in the eastern portion of that nation or risk a civil war. Many ethnic Russians live in the eastern portion of Ukraine. The renewed saber-rattling on the part of Russia has caused additional speculation that energy supplies through Ukraine could be disrupted. That has cause Brent Light Sweet Crude to rise, pushing the Brent to over $107 as of Tuesday.

Add to that mix the new summer blends of gas, which require ethanol – there is currently a shortage of ethanol and prices are at eight-year highs – and the immediate future for the price of gas is one that trends higher.

Truckers Catch Break As Diesel Prices Dip

Truckers are the only drivers on America’s highways that are enjoying a break this week. In fact, diesel fuel prices have retreated from their 2014 highs and are now down to a U.S. average of just $3.96 per gallon. That price point is down about 1.5¢ from the previous week. The lowest price for diesel is to be found on the Gulf Coast, where the coast of a gallon of fuel is about $3.79. However, many regions are still seeing prices well above $4.00 per gallon. The costliest fuel is to be found in the New England states, where the average price is about $4.24 per gallon.



Florida DOT Warns Of Possible Toll Scam

Collection Notices From Unknown “Toll Enforcement” Company Raise Red Flags, Prompt Warning To Drivers


A possible toll collection scam in Florida has prompted the state’s transportation department to issue a warning to drivers.

Drivers on Florida’s Turnpike and other state and county toll roads are being warned today of a potentially fraudulent collection effort on the part of a company called Toll Enforcement, LLC, which may be attempting to dupe drivers into sending payments. A news release detailing the scheme was sent to news media in Florida Tuesday afternoon, and it was accompanied by pictures of real toll violation notices. However, state officials stopped short of calling the  collection an outright toll scam.

“We’re calling it an alleged fraud collection practice until we have proof that it’s otherwise,” said Chad Huff, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation. Mr. Huff made is comments during an interview with “It’s better to say it’s a company that’s operating that we’re not familiar with.”

However, FDOT is requesting anyone who receives a notice from Toll Enforcement, LLC to immediately contact the Sunpass operations center by calling 888-865-5352. State officials say they will send any evidence they receive to law enforcement. “We work closely with Florida Highway Patrol, and Miami-Dade Police Department seems to have taken quite an interest in it,” Mr. Huff said. Miami-Dade’s interest may be due, in part, with the fact another company was reportedly targeting drivers in South Florida just last year. That company was called Law Enforcement Systems, LLC, and it was sending similar notices, according to a series of forum posts on

Real Toll Collection Notices Contain Key Information About Driver And Their Car

Sample of a real toll collection notice

Example of a real toll collection notice. Key information, including the date, time and location of the toll violation, will be shown. Crucially, the driver’s car will be pictured, as well.

Mr. Huff said anyone who receives a legitimate toll violation notice will notice a number of key data points, including a picture of the owner’s car and license plate, something he said is missing on the notices from Toll Enforcement, LLC. “They always say the devil is in the details. Our documents always have a large amount of detail,” he said.

“Any document that is sent by FDOT, that is attempting to collect an unpaid toll, will clearly be marked with FDOT logos,” Mr. Huff added. “Probably more important than anything, it will contain an exact date, time [and] location of the infraction.” Examples of the real FDOT toll violations notices are shown on this post, which clearly spell out the data Mr. Huff has mentioned.

Huff pointed out another element that is indicative of the alleged fake collection notices is that they do not accept credit cards or personal checks. “Our toll collections, at least after the fact, make it very easy to pay using a credit card or a check,” Mr. Huff said.

Examples Of Real Toll Violation Notices

Front of a real toll violation notice.

Front side of a real toll violation notice sent by the Florida Department of Transportation.

reverse side of a real toll violation notice in Florida

Reverse side of a real toll violation notice sent by the State of Florida. Note the contact information at the bottom, which is missing from the alleged fake toll violation notices.

Sample of a real toll collection notice

Real toll collection notices in Florida will contain the date, time and location of the toll violation. Moreover, a picture of  the driver’s car will be shown.

reverse of another type of legitimate toll collection notice

Real toll violation notices include information about the Florida Department of Transportation. The alleged fake notices do not. The real notices also include contact information for the Sunpass Customer Service Center in Boca Raton, Florida.




Another Week, Another Gas Price Increase

Gas Prices Hit High For The Year, And Highest Levels In Six Months

weekly gas price trendThe cost of driving got a little more expensive, once again, during the past week, according to the latest survey from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The weekly EIA survey shows the price of a gallon of regular unleaded went up an even 3¢, bringing the U.S. average price to $3.58. As always, some regions fared better than others, but this week that only means two regions did not experience an overall price increase. Seven of the nine regions surveyed did experience gas price increases, with the worst being in the Lower Atlantic states, where the cost of driving surged about 6¢, twice the national average.

The price of gas is now the highest it has been in six months, according to both the EIA and a survey by the American Automobile Association. While the AAA survey shows prices slightly lower than the EIA report, at $3.56 per gallon, the price of gas is, undisputably, much higher than it was just three months ago. At the start of the year, the cost of a gallon of gas was only $3.33; today, the lowest regional fuel prices to be found, on the Gulf Coast, are a penny higher than those reflected in the national average on January 6.

Even with the recent spate of price hikes, drivers are paying about 7¢ less for a gallon of gas than they were at this time in 2013. For drivers on the West Coast, not including California, the year-over-year cost at the pump is down about 15¢ per gallon. However, those gaps are considerably narrower than they were just a few weeks ago. As recently as February 17, the nationally-averaged year-over-year price differential was about 37¢.

Three Key Factors Affecting Consumer Gas Prices

Paying for gas at the pump

Gas prices could continue to rise on consumer demand and the cost of ethanol, which is at an eight-year high, according to Bloomberg.

The rising cost of fuel, at least for the moment, can be traced to a confluence of three factors, the first being consumer demand. The spring driving season is underway, with the spring break traffic continuing to take hold from the midwest to the eastern seaboard. That is likely to continue at least through Easter, which arrives later than usual this year, on April 20. The summer driving season is coming almost immediately after that, but with bids for domestic crude oil remaining near the $100 mark during the past several days, it is not likely that drivers will see much of a break in May, when the current crude oil contracts come due. The final ingredient that is impacting prices is the cost of ethanol additives, the cost of which is higher due to harsh winter conditions in the United States and the crisis in Ukraine. first reported three weeks ago the Ukraine crisis could add to the cost of ethanol additives used for summer blends of gasoline. Bloomberg was reporting Tuesday that ethanol supplies were ten percent lower than they were at this time last year, and at least one analyst was quoted as saying it would be difficult for energy suppliers to handle the logistics of increasing the supply, at last for the moment. Worse, especially for consumers, is the fact ethanol prices are also at their highest levels in eight years, which could figure prominently into coming price fluctuations for drivers.