Oil prices on Monday hit a mark not seen since June 2015 in a trend that's fueling a spike in gasoline prices heading into the Thanksgiving travel season.
American motorists are feeling pain at the pump at an unusual time of year, when gas prices usually tick downward, as the U.S. benchmark crude oil increases.
The price of West Texas Intermediate oil was up 2.6% at 12:30 p.m. Monday as traders fret about political instability in Saudi Arabia and anticipate the possibility of extended production limits by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Meanwhile, strong U.S. exports of oil, refinery maintenance and the residual effects of a Gulf Coast-to-Midwest pipeline's reduced capacity are conspiring to increase gas prices.
"It’s going to feel a little strange because consumers have become accustomed the last few years to watching gas prices drop like autumn leaves in November and December," Oil Price Information Service analyst Tom Kloza said.
Gas prices jumped 6 cents over the last week and 31 cents over the last year to $2.53 per gallon, according to AAA.
A 12-cent gas tax increase in California that took effect Wednesday is also contributing to the spike.
But the pain at the pump is particularly sharp in the Great Lakes states after the Explorer Pipeline, which carries gasoline from the Gulf Coast to the Upper Midwest, was forced to operate on reduced capacity in late October.
Explorer said it had completed repairs on the pipeline and returned to pumping at normal levels Wednesday. But the Midwest is still reeling from tight gasoline supplies that have driven up prices, partially caused by local refinery maintenance that was delayed after Harvey ravaged the Houston region.
"This is definitely an uncharacteristic move higher," GasBuddy.com analyst Patrick DeHaan said.
Average retail prices in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio on Monday morning were $2.70, $2.72, $2.67 and $2.62, respectively, according to GasBuddy.
Another factor driving up prices: high demand for gasoline. With the economy strong, Americans are hitting the road. Gasoline inventories fell by 4 million barrels this week to 212.8 million, much faster than analysts were expecting, according to research firm Capital Economics.
Still, Kloza predicted that gas prices would ease in the coming weeks, per usual trends this time of year, when drivers are less likely to hit the road because of less daylight and worse weather.
"I would dress up as a clown suit on Christmas if prices are higher by then," Kloza said. "I don’t have one in my closet, by the way."
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