Gas prices rise for Labor Day travel

By
Courtesy of the Associated Press

Rising conflicts in Syria and Egypt might have helped boost oil prices, and thus gasoline prices, just ahead of the Labor Day weekend. But one veteran analyst said Thursday it’s too late in the year for those troubles to cause a major price spike, especially with North American oil production rising.

“We’re just not as vulnerable as we were” to supply disruptions in the Middle East because of the boom in the Bakken Shale oilfields of North Dakota and oil sands production in Alberta [Canada],’’ said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service and gasbuddy.com.

“We have seen the Middle East overcook the price of crude a little bit, but you’re still going to pay less than you did last year,” Mr. Kloza said.

Indeed, Gasbuddy and the American Automobile Association’s Fuel Gauge report showed local and national gasoline prices Thursday were significantly cheaper than during the days before last year’s Labor Day weekend, when prices were the highest ever for this holiday.

Gasbuddy reported a local average price of $3.654 per gallon for regular, 33 cents more expensive than a month ago, but 27.8 cents per gallon cheaper than last Aug. 29.

The auto club showed a 31.5 cent lower Ohio average for the same year-to-year comparison, 37.3 cents cheaper in Michigan, and a 34 cent lower national average.

But the Gasbuddy report, based on volunteer spotters’ observations, showed local prices up Thursday, on average, by about 9 cents per gallon over Wednesday, and 16 cents higher than a week ago.

With regular having bounced up to $3.699 per gallon at many area stations on Wednesday, motorists like Bob Sander of Canton, Ohio, who paid $3.599 at the Pilot Travel Center near I-280 and the Ohio Turnpike in Lake Township got a slight bargain.

Mr. Sander, making a weekly trip to Pemberville to visit his mother, said he suspected the unrest in Syria coupled with anticipated Labor Day travel was behind the latest price jump, but it was really anyone’s guess.

“I’m sure there is a good reason, because they always have one,” Mr. Sander said.

Matt Hemp of Wood County’s Troy Township said he often gets fuel at the truck stops along I-280 because the prices are generally lower there, but he doesn’t sweat it.

“I just get gas when I need it, because there’s not much I can do about it,” he said.

While neither Egypt nor Syria are major oil exporters, traders have been concerned that the violence could spread to more important oil-exporting countries or disrupt major oil transport routes.

Benchmark oil for October delivery rose $1.09, or 1 percent, to $110.10 a barrel Wednesday, driven higher by the prospect of Western military intervention in Syria’s civil war. The price was oil’s highest closing level since May 3, 2011.

On Thursday, when an attack seemed less imminent, oil fell $1.30, or 1.2 percent, to $108.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, helped down by a rise in U.S. crude inventories.

In its holiday forecast, AAA Travel predicted 34.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend, with peak travel days today and Monday. That’s a 4.2 percent increase over last year and the highest since the 2008 recession.

“AAA is forecasting a lift in Labor Day travel this year due to the increasingly positive economic outlook and optimism in the housing market,” said Robert L. Darbelnet, the auto club’s president. “For many Americans, their home is also their biggest asset. As home prices improve in many parts of the country, more families are feeling comfortable about traveling.”

The auto club said it did not expect gas prices to rise significantly absent the intervention of a major hurricane or other refinery disruption. But it noted that prices remain "at a level most Americans consider too high," with 50 percent of its survey respondents now defining their "too high" as $3.44 per gallon.

Road construction should be a minimal impediment in the Toledo area during the long weekend, with most projects suspended for the holiday. Traffic could jam up, however, on the Ohio Turnpike through Fremont, where a reconstruction project has one of three lanes closed each way.

Staff writer Jennifer Feehan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.