2014 Starts Out More Expensive Than 2013
The price of a gallon of gasoline remained fairly flat during the past, on a nationwide level, according to the latest weekly survey from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA report shows the average price of a gallon of unleaded is just under $3.33 per gallon, although as a practical measure, the price of fuel stayed pretty much the same from one week to the next. However, regional price shifts tell a radically different story, with some areas paying several cents more per gallon and others paying a few cents less.
Midwest and Rockies Endure Price Increases, Particularly Year Over Year
The cost of driving did get a little more expensive for people living in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states, with the price of fuel going up about 3¢ per gallon in both regions, underscoring the pricing volatility that can be experienced from one region to the next and on a nearly daily basis. The Midwest, for instance, has suffered wild pricing swings over the past month that have made budgeting for gasoline difficult for most drivers. Stations are charging, on average, about $3.25 per gallon across the Midwest, which is about where prices were two weeks ago. After a one-week respite, Midwesterners are paying almost as much as they were at the end of December, when sudden week-over-week inflation brought the price of gas in the heartland to fresh highs for 2013.
Indeed, with the recent spate of price swings in the Midwest, drivers across the region are paying about 10¢ per gallon more than at this time last year. However, that number is not nearly as severe as those living in the Rocky Mountain states. The average price of gas across states like Idaho, Montana and Colorado may be less than in the Midwest, at $3.15 per gallon, but that figure is over 28¢ per gallon higher than January 2013. While most of the rest of the nation is paying about 2¢ to 3¢ more per gallon this year, the Midwest and Rockies have been hit hardest by the year-over-year price increases.
EIA Predicts Strong Crude Supply Will Bring Prices Down
The Energy Information Adminstration continues to forecast lower prices through 2014, however, despite the rocky start to the year. Typically, gas prices do begin a calendar year slightly higher because refineries are holding back on new inventories to avoid year-end taxes they would have to pay on stored supplies. Prices generally fall through January and into the start of February. But the EIA is predicting prices will continue declinig through 2014 and, potentially, 2015, with a strong domestic crude oil supply bolstering import supplies.
The weekly petroleum summary from the government forecasts domestic crude oil production to reach levels that have not been seen since the Nixon Administration. “EIA projects crude oil production to average 8.5 million bbl/d in 2014 and 9.3 million bbl/d in 2015, which would be the highest annual rate of crude oil production since 1972,” the agency has reported. “Production from tight oil formations in Texas, North Dakota, and a handful of other states has driven total crude oil production growth for the past four years. Development activity in these key onshore basins and increasing productivity as companies learn how to apply hydraulic fracturing techniques more effectively and efficiently are central to [the] Short-term Energy Outlook forecast.”
Crude Futures Mixed Overseas And Domestically
The EIA report has had little impact on crude futures markets, which have responded in recent months to political unrest in Libya and Syria, driving the cost of Brent Light Sweet Crude higher. Potential resolutions to the Iranian nuclear refinement programs has kept pricing pressure at bay, however, with the potential for new supplies fairly good, if negotiations go well. New talks between world powers and Tehran are expected to continue in Geneva next month.
The political unrest that has kept Libya’s crude production low, at about 300,000 barrels per day, has finally begun to ease. That has helped production double to about 600,000 bbl/d in the past couple weeks, but that level is about half the production that was being output in July 2013.
Prices of West Texas Intermediate augur the best potential for lower gas prices in the immediate future, at least for North America. WTI had spiked in December, closing over $100 per barrel, but prices for February delivery have fallen considerably in the past week, closing Monday at $91.54 per barrel.