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Harvey’s impact on local gas minimal

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 29, 2017, 11:13 p.m.

An oil refinery flare continues to burn as Hurricane Harvey makes landfall in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday. Impact of Gulf Coast refinery shutdowns are likely to be felt more east of the Mississippi River. (Associated Press)
An oil refinery flare continues to burn as Hurricane Harvey makes landfall in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday. Impact of Gulf Coast refinery shutdowns are likely to be felt more east of the Mississippi River. (Associated Press)

Hurricane Harvey and its catastrophic flooding have halted production at Gulf Coast refineries, virtually guaranteeing spikes in gas prices across the country – but Inland Northwest residents shouldn’t expect to see much of an impact from the storm at area gas pumps.

AAA representatives say several factors have driven up the region’s pump prices in recent weeks, and will continue to do so, but don’t blame it all on Harvey.

High demand driven by a flood of a different kind in the Northwest – hundreds of thousands flowing into the region to view the Aug. 21 eclipse along or near its line of totality – put pressure on prices through the middle of the month and into this week. And the lead-up to the summer’s last big travel holiday this coming weekend has pushed fuel prices a bit higher, even before Harvey’s impact began affecting pricing behavior.

“You saw more of a spike in the last week because of the eclipse, so you likely won’t see much more than you have already,” Jeanette Casselano, AAA’s national director of public relations, said of Pacific Northwest gas prices that have steadily risen in the past month.

“We’re seeing the prices we’ve seen in the last week as more related to Labor Day and the eclipse demand, but in coming days, that will be because of Harvey,” she said.

Harvey-driven prices could remain up through September and into October, Casselano and others said, but the determining factor will be the length of time taken by Gulf Coast refineries to return to full production.

“It’s really going to depend on how long those refineries are down, but this is going to be a short-term impact, not a long-term.” Castellano said.

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Washington and Idaho on Tuesday was $2.95 and $2.74, respectively, according to AAA, and $2.38 nationally.

In the Spokane metro area, a gallon of regular cost an average of $2.83, up 13 cents from a month ago. In the Coeur d’Alene area, the price averaged $2.67, up 17 cents from a month prior.

Area consumers likely will see average gas prices in Washington and Idaho – already up 6 cents and 3 cents from a week ago, respectively, according to AAA – move from 5 to 10 cents higher.

Among the reasons for Harvey’s minimal effect on gas prices in the Pacific and Inland Northwest are the sources for fuel sold at Washington and Idaho pumps. Texas and Louisiana refineries supply regions north and east of the Gulf Coast; refineries in the greater Northwest and Mountain West serve Washington and Idaho.

“To be honest, we shouldn’t feel much of an impact here because of where we get our fuel,” said Jennifer Cook of AAA Washington, adding, “we might see a few cents, but most likely will ride out this bit of a bump and start to ride back down.”

Harvey’s impact will be further minimized by regional demand that has eased after the eclipse and will drop further after the Labor Day travel weekend, she said.

In Idaho, it’s much the same.

“The effect we’re seeing, so far, is from preparing for Labor Day,” said Matthew Conde of AAA Oregon/Idaho, who said Idaho consumers can expect fuel prices to go up by 10 cents in some areas. “A lot of that is tied to Labor Day demand, but there could be some ripple effect from Harvey as well.”

That’s relatively small compared the increases of 25 cents a gallon or more projected for some parts of the country in the next several weeks, according to some news reports.


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