At a time of year when gasoline prices have historically dropped, they instead have jumped 12 cents locally since Labor Day, pushing and in some cases exceeding $4 per gallon for regular.
According to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, it's likely we'll see the "highest prices of the year in the next few days. Don't be surprised to see more increases and the highest prices we've seen since May 2011," Kloza added.
Some gas stations in Luzerne County posted prices for regular of $3.999 per gallon Tuesday, opting not to cross the $4 threshold. Others, like the Shell station along Route 93 near I-81 in Sugarloaf Township, were beyond the $4 level. The average price in the region was $3.90, two cents higher than the state average and six cents above the national average, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
AAA says the national average price rose 1.5 cents to $3.843 per gallon. That's up 15 cents from a month ago. The last time the average price per gallon in the region was at or above $4 was July 22, 2008 when it was $4.01. AAA does not expect the average to reach that level in the coming days, though some individual stations could get there.
According to a AAA analysis, the rare September jump in prices is caused by a series of factors:
Refineries – two major Midwest refineries are being upgraded to handle heavy Canadian crude oil (Marathon Petroleum Co. in Detroit and BP in Whiting, Ind.), which requires partial shutdowns over the next few months.
Hurricanes – oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico have been slow to restart after shutting down for Hurricane Isaac; the impact of these precautionary shutdowns is being felt at the pumps now.
Switch to winter-blend gasoline – although less expensive, winter-blend gasoline usually creates a short-term hiccup in prices as refineries partially shut down to make the switch or to do maintenance work; the requirement for summer-blend gasoline expires Saturday, so prices are likely to drop in the second half of September.
"AAA expects prices at the pump will begin to decline midway through September and continue for the last few months of the year as demand decreases and the switch to less expensive winter-blended gasoline begins," said Jenny M. Robinson, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.