AAA: Idaho gas prices on the climb

| May 19, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Idaho gas prices increased by 17 cents in a week as novel coronavirus restrictions are slowly lifted and fuel demand rebuilds, according to AAA Idaho.

For the week, the Gem State’s price jump was the largest in the country, AAA Idaho Public Affairs Director Matthew Conde said, adding that it’s an ominous sign of things to come.

“At the peak of the stay-home orders, pump prices in Idaho dropped by double digits for four or five weeks in a row,” says AAA Idaho Public Affairs Director Matthew Conde. “But as people return to work, more attractions and businesses reopen, and the end of the school year approaches, we could see something of a boomerang effect, with prices sharply increasing in the weeks ahead.”

On Monday, the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in Idaho is $1.98, which is four cents more than a month ago, but $1.22 less than a year ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. average price is $1.88, which is six cents more than a month ago, but 97 cents less than a year ago. Nearly every state’s average gas price is more expensive this week – on average, four cents higher than a week ago.

In addition to COVID-19-related economic forces, gas stations across the country will also make a belated switch to summer-blend fuel this week, which is more expensive to produce, Conde said.

The last time the national average was under $2 per gallon heading into the Memorial Day holiday was 17 years ago, when drivers paid just $1.50 per gallon to fill up in 2003. While this year’s holiday gas prices won’t be nearly as low, drivers in many parts of the country will still see a substantial savings over last year, according to AAA Idaho.

“Idaho gas prices recently fell below the national average for a few days, which is definitely the exception and not the rule,” Conde said. “Gasoline stocks in the Rockies region have been dropping for the last six weeks, even as regional refineries are slowly ramping up production. We would expect these trends to continue for the foreseeable future.”

Meanwhile, global crude oil prices are also beginning to recover. Today, the West Texas Intermediate is trading near $32 per barrel, about twelve dollars per barrel more than a month ago, but 30 dollars per barrel less than a year ago.

As crude oil and finished gasoline supplies around the world begin to shrink, it will apply additional upward pressure on gas prices.

“If there’s a secondary spike in COVID-19 cases, a lot of these price movements will stop in their tracks,” Conde said. “Really, our gas prices through the rest of the spring are going to be closely tied to the level of fuel demand and how quickly that demand comes back online.”