Flat oil prices keep Pittsburgh gasoline low

Average gas pump prices in the Pittsburgh region sit around $2.53 a gallon Monday morning, down 1 cent from last week, according to GasBuddy’s survey of more than 700 stations in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh prices have fallen gradually through February and the beginning of March as global oil prices — the biggest influence in American gasoline prices — have remained flat.

Still, analysts expect a large increase to begin in coming weeks.

That’s mostly because refineries across the nation are preparing to undergo seasonal maintenance to produce cleaner-burning gasoline for the summer. Each spring, average gasoline prices rise 35 to 75 cents from February to May amid temporary refinery shut-downs and higher demand for gasoline as Americans drive more with warmer weather.

Last year, Pittsburgh-area prices increased 73 cents from late-February to mid-June.

Because of flagging oil prices, analysts have been off in their prediction of when gasoline would rise. Three weeks ago, GasBuddy analysts “called bottom,” predicting U.S. prices would begin rising. That did not happen in Pittsburgh, though the U.S. average crept up three cents a gallon in the last week to $2.31 this morning.

GasBuddy expects gasoline price increases to accelerate over the next 4 to 6 weeks and “lead to some belligerence on markets,” its weekly media release read. 

“With refinery maintenance and turnarounds beginning across the country, we'll likely see a draw down on winter gasoline stocks, leading the national average to rise in the week ahead,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst.

Along with higher demand for gasoline, trends in the oil market could push prices higher in coming months.

An international agreement brokered in November by major oil producers — members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, as well as countries outside of that group — has gone into effect to limit production. The agreement aims to alleviate a global oversupply that has weighed down prices for more than two years.

But the effect on prices is unclear. Since the global oil price benchmark hit $58 a barrel in early January — the highest mark since the summer months of 2015 — oil prices have eased. This morning, global prices hovered around $56.14 a barrel.

Pittsburgh-area gasoline is already higher than in most of the country. Pennsylvania has the eighth-most expensive price per gallon, in part because the state has the highest fuel taxes in the country, according to GasBuddy.com.

Daniel Moore: dmoore@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

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