Gasoline prices remain ‘stubbornly high’

When Gulf Coast refineries began shutting down ahead of Hurricane Isaac late last month, analysts predicted the resulting gasoline price spikes would be short-lived.

Nearly a month later, the average price for a gallon remains higher than it was before Isaac barreled through the Gulf and forced virtually all drilling and refinery operations to temporarily shut down.

“Prices are stubbornly high,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. “I’m pretty confident prices will drop in the fourth quarter.”

Prices remain highest on the West Coast and in New York — above $4 for a gallon of regular gasoline, according to AAA — with a national average price of $3.81 on Wednesday.

That compares to $3.75 a month ago, just before Hurricane Isaac hit the Gulf.

In Houston Wednesday, a gallon of regular gasoline cost $3.58, according to AAA. That’s down from $3.64 a week ago but up slightly from $3.55 a month ago.

Crude oil prices are down by about $10 a barrel since early September, Kloza noted.

“People are flummoxed,” he said. “They see (oil) prices down, and gas prices, they’re moving down at less than the normal pace.”

Still, he said, gasoline prices are almost certain to drop significantly in November, the month when the biggest drops typically occur due to refineries switching to a cheaper made winter-blend fuel.

“Then whoever is elected can improperly take credit,” he said.

He said the fact that demand for gasoline has dropped only 1 percent on a four-week average from last year is more surprising than the slow drop in price.

“With portions of the country above $4, and much of the country above $3.80, I’m surprised demand is not down as much as I might think it would be,” he said.