Arizona gas prices bumped by holiday, hurricane; still relatively low

Arizona saw a slight bump in gas prices this week, but was relatively untouched by the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which cut oil refining and boosted prices sharply in many states. (Photo by Mike Mozart/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Gas prices in Arizona rose 5 cents a gallon this week – 4 cents since Thursday – squeezed by the typical rise in holiday demand and a drop in supply from Gulf Coast refineries shuttered by Hurricane Harvey.

But compared to other parts of the country, Arizona is still in relatively good shape as motorists head out for the holiday weekend, according to a national survey of gasoline prices by AAA.

“Arizona should not experience as significant of an increase as other parts of the country,” said Michelle Donati, a spokeswoman for AAA Arizona.

As of Friday, Arizona had the sixth-lowest fuel prices in the country at a statewide average of $2.313 per gallon, compared to a national average of $2.519. Arizona was among 10 states with the lowest week-over-week change, Donati said.

Elsewhere in the country, however, the impact of Hurricane Harvey is being more keenly felt.

The hurricane that wreaked havoc on the coast of Texas shut down nearly 20 oil refineries over the past week, fueling a national average gas price increase of 16 cents during the week – almost 7 cents from Thursday to Friday, according to AAA. The East Coast has been hit the hardest, with states like South Carolina seeing increases of as much as 31 cents a gallon.

Besides the rise in demand and the drop in supply, Donati said another factor in the rising prices is the uncertainty about what will happen after the storm is over.

For large-scale gas buyers like Valley Metro, fluctuating prices are something to keep an eye on, but are not an immediate concern, said Hillary Foose, director of communications and marketing for the transit agency.

So far, said Foose, the agency has not seen much of a change in ridership, but if higher prices persist, they would see effects months down the road. Right now, she said, the problem for them is short-term.

“People don’t usually change their behavior based on a single factor,” she said.

Donati said Arizona residents have not seen as much of an increase in gas prices as other parts of the country because the state does not rely directly on any of the oil refineries that were shut down by the hurricane.

One of the two pipelines that supply Arizona comes from Texas, but it originates in El Paso, which was not affected by the storm. The other pipeline comes from California.

Donati said she was told by AAA fuel experts that as of Friday, 10 of the Houston-area refineries that were shut down by the hurricane were still closed or were operating at limited capacity. But she does not want people to be alarmed.

There’s enough supply to meet demand, she said. It will be a matter of “wait and see” on how badly the infrastructure was damaged and how quickly it can be up and running again to move the product.

“Gasoline inventories are at historically high levels,” she said. “There’s no need to panic.”