Low oil prices weigh on Pittsburgh-area gasoline

A few months following an unusual rise in gasoline prices, Pittsburgh motorists are seeing an unusual drop in prices.

Average gas pump prices in the Pittsburgh region sit around $2.52 a gallon Monday morning, down 1 cent from last week, according to GasBuddy’s survey of more than 700 stations in southwestern Pennsylvania. Prices have dropped 4 cents in the last month, not a huge margin until you consider that prices usually rise several cents a week by this time of year. 

Pittsburgh prices have fallen gradually through February and the first half of March as global oil prices — the biggest influence in American gasoline prices — have remained flat. In the last week, global oil price benchmark plunged about 9 percent and this morning hovers around $51 a barrel.

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

Since the global oil price benchmark hit $58 a barrel in early January — the highest mark since the summer months of 2015 — oil prices eased. 

Analysts have been off in their prediction of when gasoline would rise. Four weeks ago, GasBuddy analysts “called bottom,” predicting U.S. prices would begin rising. That did not happen, with the U.S. average falling 2 cents a gallon in the last week to $2.29 this morning.

“A sudden plunge in the price of oil is likely to weigh on gas prices, at least temporarily,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, in the website’s weekly media release. 

Still, analysts say it’s a matter of time before gasoline begins a large increase.

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 cents 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.

“I remain optimistic that the annual spring rally at the pump could be less severe than expected, but remain cautious as it remains difficult to know where the new path will lead oil prices in the week ahead,” Mr. DeHaan said.

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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