Summer will end with a bang at the pump as Harvey-induced refinery and pipeline shut downs spur short-term spike

HAMILTON, NJ – At $2.45, today’s national gas rice average is up ten cents in the past week to the highest recorded price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline so far this year.  The near-term combinations of numerous refinery and pipeline shut downs, tightened access to supply levels in the Gulf and anticipated high gasoline demand surrounding Labor Day weekend, means motorists may not have seen the full impact of Harvey at the pump.

“Consumers will see a short-term spike in the coming weeks with gas prices likely topping $2.50 per gallon, but quickly dropping by mid to late September,” said Tracy Noble, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “AAA does not expect refineries to be offline for months, as early reports indicate minimal to no significant damage to Corpus Christi and Houston refineries, but the coming days will offer more insight."

New Jersey, like many states across the country, is feeling the effects of what was Hurricane Harvey as gas prices continue their climb.  Today’s New Jersey gas price has jumped nine cents in the past week to $2.46 per gallon Thursday and is a penny over the 2017 high price of $2.45 per gallon (January).

Local Gas Price Averages – Thursday, August 31

  • New Jersey - $2.46, up 5 cents overnight and up 9 cents in the last week.

  • S. Jersey - $2.40, up 6 cents overnight and up 11 cents in the last week.

  • Trenton – $2.47, up 5 cents overnight and up 7 cents in the last week.

  • Cape May County - $2.43, up 5 cents overnight, and up 10 cents in the last week.

  • Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon Counties – $2.48, up 5 cents overnight and up 9 cents in the last week.

  • Monmouth, Ocean Counties - $2.47, up 4 cents overnight, and up 9 cents in the last week.

As Americans celebrate the final holiday weekend of summer, prices at the pump could continue to rise beyond Labor Day. The national average could top $2.50 for the first time in two years.  However, drivers can look forward to mid-September as prices rebalance when refineries get back online, stations make the switchover to less expensive winter blend gasoline, and seasonal demand tapers off.

“When you see what’s going on in Houston, you can hardly refer to an increase in gas prices as ‘pain’ at the pump”, says Noble. “That said, the timing of the increase is unfortunate for all those planning one final road trip this summer, as motorists are expected to pay the highest Labor Day gas prices in two years.”

Gulf Coast Refinery and Pipeline Status

As of Wednesday evening, the Department of Energy (DOE) is reporting that 10 Gulf Coast refineries remain shut down. Six refineries have begun the process of assessing damage and restarting, which may take several days. Two refineries in the Gulf Coast region are operating at reduced rates. Refineries in Lake Charles, La., could shut or reduce rates as Harvey moves east. Additionally, DOE released 500,000 barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve – the nation’s reserve of crude oil. The oil will be delivered via pipeline to the Phillips 66 refinery in Westlake, La. According to DOE, it will continue to review incoming requests for oil in the reserve, meaning that it could release more if deemed necessary.

In addition to refinery shut downs, several major pipelines continue to operate at reduced rates, have shut down or plan to shut down due to lack of supply. The Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday evening it expects to temporarily suspend its gasoline, diesel and jet fuel pipelines. With its supplying refineries closed in the area, the pipeline operator cited reduced output as the reason for suspending its transportation operations. The Pipeline originates in Houston and supplies the East Coast.

“The shut downs do not indicate a shortage of gasoline supplies in the Gulf Coast region or across the country,” added Noble. “These are preventative measures. Overall stocks in the Gulf are above average levels and will be available to drivers once power is restored and area roads are cleared.”

Refinery, pipeline and logistical problems on the Gulf Coast are expected to squeeze fuel supply delivery volumes to the Southeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic.

“Northeast refiners are stepping in and barging supplies to the U.S. Southeast, the Caribbean, Mexico and South America to offset the lack of supply from Gulf Coast refineries and pipelines shut down due to Harvey,” added Noble.