In a sign that gasoline prices may not take a predicted dip, the cost of a gallon of regular has moved above $3 in all 50 states. Even states near refineries and large oil fields no longer can boast they have broken the $3 barrier on the downside. As oil prices pick up, the trend is a sign that the American consumer cannot count on a low cost to fueling their cars to be an economic advantage to their household budgets, at least in the early part of 2014.
Gas prices never fell much below the $4 level in several states. They are still above $3.50 in New York, California and six other states, according to research firm GasBuddy. Among them, these states have 20% of the U.S. population, so the effects of high gas prices are more widespread than a simple count of the 50 states would indicate.
At the other end of the spectrum, where gas prices did drop below $3, now 13 states have moved up to between $3 and $3.10. These include oil-rich states and those near Gulf of Mexico refinery capacity — Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Also on the list are northern Plains states, with their small populations near shale deposits — South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Gas prices are traditionally very low in these states.
The most closely watched barometer for gasoline price direction has always been oil, even if the relationship can be distorted by refinery capacity and efficiency. After a very sharp dip in early 2014, it has taken an equally sharp rise to more than $97 a barrel.
After a relative period of peace in many oil producing nations in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, tensions in several have flared up again. Additionally, very cold weather in the United States and northern Europe has driven demand. Additionally, several agencies, including the International Monetary Fund, believe that global gross domestic product will expand more than previously expected this year. Unless production capacity rises sharply at the same time, oil prices likely will remain at current levels, or rise higher.
Gas prices across all 50 states may well be a trend that is here to stay for the foreseeable future.