NEW YORK— The price of gasoline looks familiar this Memorial Day. For the third year in a row, the national average will be within a penny or two of $3.64 per gallon.
Stability wasn’t always the norm. Between 2003 and 2008 average retail gasoline prices more than doubled, reaching an all-time high of $4.11 per gallon in 2008. Prices then collapsed as the U.S. plunged into recession. But after a two-year run-up between 2009 and 2011, the price of gasoline has remained in a range of roughly $3.25 to $3.75 per gallon.
Drivers can handle that, according to AAA, and are ready to head out for Memorial Day driving trips in the highest numbers since 2005. “It is unlikely that gas prices will have a significant effect on travel plans compared to a year ago,” AAA wrote in its annual Memorial Day forecast.
Michael Green, a AAA spokesman, said Kansas City area residents should expect to pay about $3.41 a gallon this weekend, compared with $3.70 last year and $3.25 in 2012. Last year some Midwest refineries were down to make the switch to Canadian crude, others were down for other reasons, “and supply for the area was relatively tight,” Green said.
The website kcgasprices.com reports much the same thing. Nationwide, the average price of gas on Friday was $3.63.7, up a dime in the last week but almost a nickel lower than a year ago. In the Kansas City area, the average price on Friday was $3.424 – though generally lower on the Missouri side – down 38 cents from a year ago.
The website, part of gasbuddy.com, has a nationwide gas price “heat map,” and while California is red with gas in the $4 range and everything from Illinois to New York is generally orange – higher than $3.75 – Kansas City lies in the greenest and cheapest part of the country. Drivers in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi generally are paying $3.30 to $3.50 a gallon.
Green said drivers have come to expect gas in the $3 to $4 range but they aren’t thrilled about it.
“This is the new normal,” he said.
Although those prices don’t generally keep people from traveling, he said, they make up the difference by spending less when they get to their destinations.
Steady gasoline prices are largely the result of relatively steady crude oil prices, even though there has been a long list of global supply disruptions and political turmoil that that typically would push the price of oil higher.
Sanctions have sharply cut output from Iran, once the world’s third largest oil exporter. Libya went through civil war, and labor and political disruptions continue to limit its exports. Venezuela’s oil output has been steadily declining for a decade. Most recently, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is raising concerns that sanctions will impact production or exports from Russia, the world’s second largest exporter after Saudi Arabia.
But rising crude output in countries such as the U.S., Canada and Brazil have offset the declining supply elsewhere, helping to keep prices steady.
Across the nation, all U.S. drivers will likely be paying less in the coming weeks, the result of a typical seasonal decline between late spring and early summer.
“Temperate-to-lower prices is the most likely path for the next couple of months,” Kloza says. “And then in hurricane season you just cross your fingers.”
The Examiner’s Jeff Fox contributed to this report.