Gas Prices Up Slightly Over Labor Day Weekend: Irene To Blame?

August 31, 2011

If you're packing the coolers, the picnic blankets, and the rooftop carrier—and heading out on the road over the Labor Day holiday weekend, be glad that you're not paying even more at the pump.

Hurricane Irene—in addition to wreaking havoc on much of the Northeast—affected some refineries this past weekend, but it didn't cause any lasting refinery issues—or immediate price hikes.

There will likely be some impact—but not a significant impact—on pump prices. A few refinery outages on the East Coast—including large Sunoco and ConocoPhillips facilities—were running at reduced rates; on the other hand, a report released today showed that U.S. crude supplies unexpectedly increased this past week—leading to prices below $88 a barrel, and at least a few early predictions that fuel prices could follow a downward trend this fall.

Pump prices up slightly, though not due to Irene

In any case, while pump prices are considerably higher than last Labor Day, it's too early to pin any smaller rises on Hurricane Irene. As of Monday morning, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) national-average price of a gallon of regular gas was about $3.61—up nearly a couple cents from week-before levels, and reversing a downward trend that had sustained through August.

The EIA data was gathered Monday, so it reflects any immediate post-hurricane price increases. According to GasBuddy.com, national-average prices have risen to about $3.63 as of 8/31; that's up about five cents from August 22—days prior to Irene—when pump prices, which had been gradually falling, started on an upswing. However GasBuddy doesn't show East Coast price hikes to be disproportionate with those of the rest of the country.

gas Prices

gas Prices

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Nevertheless, it appears that pump prices will be closing the month at a slightly lower price (about ten cents lower) than at the beginning of the month.

Families feeling the travel costs

Transportation and fuel costs were already expected to make up the largest share of holiday-weekend spending, according to the AAA. Families are expected to drive an average 608 miles over the Labor Day holiday weekend—calculating out to about $88 for a vehicle that averages 25 miles per gallon. That distance is only slightly less than last year, but at that time pump prices were only around $2.70 per gallon.

And according to the AAA prediction issued last week, before Hurricane Irene, fewer Americans will be traveling this holiday weekend, though about a half-percent more will take to the highways. But the fuel increases might prove enough of a difference, perhaps, for families to balk on smaller items like eating out, recreation permits, or park admission.

Economists are undoubtedly keeping an eye on gas prices, as if they rise appreciably again they could affect consumer spending and further delay economic growth.

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