Gas prices spiking as refineries close following Hurricane Harvey

Gas prices have been rising because of Hurricane Harvey. We talked to several people to get their thoughts on the price increase. (Baltimore Sun video)

Gas prices spiked in the Baltimore-area — and nationwide — in recent days and are expected to continue to rise after a major pipeline that runs from Texas to the East Coast had to be shut down following Hurricane Harvey.

AAA reported that the average price for a gallon of regular gas was $2.55 in Baltimore on Friday, up 13 cents from yesterday and more than 25 cents since last week. GasBuddy, the gas price tracking app, found prices ranging from a low of $2.23 a gallon of regular to a high of $2.89 within a couple of miles of downtown Baltimore.


"Seeing a spike that high in such a short time — that's the scary part," said Brandon Markow of Pikesville as he filled up at a Shell station on Russell Street.

Markow said he typically doesn't pay too much attention to gas prices because they always fluctuate, but did a double take when he saw that a gallon of regular was $2.59, about 30 cents more than the last time he filled up.


Prices are expected to continue rising until mid-September, when flood-damaged refineries are expected to begin reopening. But analysts warned of potential shortages if refineries remain closed longer.

"We're going to have a much better understanding of what's happening next week, when the flood waters recede and people get in to assess the damage," said Michael Whatley, an executive vice president at Consumer Energy Alliance, a Houston-based consumer group.

As of Friday morning, 10 refineries were shut down in the Gulf Coast region, accounting for about 32 percent of the area's refining capacity and about 17 percent of the total U.S. refining capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

With many of its supplying refineries closed because of flooding from the hurricane, the Colonial Pipeline suspended shipments Wednesday on its gasoline, diesel and jet fuel pipelines. The 1,500-mile Colonial Pipeline from Texas to New York is among the largest suppliers of fuel to states along the East Coast, including Maryland.

The largest refinery in the U.S., on the Texas-Louisiana border, became the 12th refinery knocked out by Tropical Storm Harvey, making a significant dent in the nation's refining capacity

The pipeline company said it hopes to be able to reopen on Sunday, but fuel prices are expected to continue to rise until refineries that were forced to shut down after damage from the hurricane are able to reopen.

Charise Allen stopped off at the Russell Street Shell station before a trip to New York City with her son and nephews to visit family for the holiday weekend.

"I was like, does that say $2.59?" said Allen, of Baltimore.

She spent $45 to fill up — a lot more than the $35 a full tank cost her while traveling in North Carolina last week.

Others took the price spike in stride.

"Once we get to the $4 mark, if we get there, that's when I may have to start thinking about other means of transportation or at least reducing my driving habits," said Brindon Richardson, an Inner Harbor resident who filled up for $2.79 a gallon at a Sunoco station near Oriole Park.

While the Colonial Pipeline is an important supplier of gasoline in Maryland, it's not the only one. In its absence, refineries and suppliers in New Jersey and the Northeast are ramping up their output to the East Coast, which should keep gas stations filled for now.

"Right now local petroleum distributors' priority is being able to reach product and secure product at the pump for customers," said Ellen Valentino, a spokeswoman for the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association. "There are some issues, but the good news is the government has been quick to remove barriers that would normally be in place, which will ease in moving product."


In an effort to relieve price pressure, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a waiver allowing 12 states, including Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., to begin selling less-expensive winter-blend gasoline. In most states, the EPA mandates that summer-blend gasoline, which is more environmentally friendly, be sold through Sept. 15.

The federal government also eased restrictions on transporting gasoline and other fuels by commercial vehicle across state lines and sent 500,000 barrels of oil from the emergency Strategic Petroleum Reserve to an undamaged refinery in Louisiana.

Still, the tightened supply has sent prices soaring to the highest levels of the year, according to AAA.

"Prices have risen double digits in most areas across the state since last week, before the hurricane," said Christine Delise, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "The situation you have is U.S. refineries that are offline in the Gulf Coast, combined with the higher demand for gasoline heading into the Labor Day holiday weekend."

In Maryland, between 650,000 and 700,000 people are expected to travel for the end-of-summer weekend, according to AAA.

AAA projected the national average could rise to $2.75 per gallon in the week ahead. Maryland's average per-gallon price of $2.54, was two cents above the national average price Friday and marked a high for the year so far.

Taghi Ryder of Towson said he wasn't pleased with the $2.79 per-gallon price at a Sunoco near Orioles Park, but understands how flooded refineries could affect prices.

"Frustrating, sure," he said, "but it is what it is."

Families with children enjoy an extra week of summer after Gov. Larry Hogan's executive order delayed school until after Labor Day. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)

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