Just days before Memorial Day weekend – the unofficial start of the summer driving season – gas prices at many Wichita stations have crept up.
Morning commuters on Wednesday saw the price for a gallon of regular unleaded jump by about 20 cents to $2.29 overnight at many Wichita stations.
GasBuddy.com listed the average price for a gallon of gas in Wichita at $2.19 Wednesday afternoon, though it showed many stations at $2.29.
The price increase is not confined to Kansas, said Patrick DeHaan, a petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.
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The national average for unleaded gas prices was $2.37 on Wednesday, up 8 cents from last year’s average of $2.29, according to GasBuddy.
“Across much of the country, gas prices have been inching up slightly this past week, and the same is true in the state of Kansas...” DeHaan said. “By and large though, while gas prices are trickling higher, it is still a pretty cheap travel time.”
Prices could be rising for a number of reasons, including a recent reported drop in U.S. gasoline inventories, said AAA Kansas spokesman Shawn Steward.
“There’s been an increase in demand,” Steward said. “AAA projects that about 800,000 more people will be on the road this weekend when compared with Memorial Day weekend in 2016. Plus, our national gas inventories have dropped by about 400,000 barrels during the recent period.”
“I think a lot of this is just basic economics – supply is down a little and demand is up.”
Reasons for the increase
Traveler demand is only partially to blame for increasing prices, AAA Kansas spokeswoman Jennifer Haugh said. A significant change in oil prices could also affect summer gas prices.
“The increase of gas prices this time of year is pretty regular every year due to demand and more people on the road,” Haugh said. “OPEC is still holding on to their cuts in production, and that makes a big difference too.”
Reuters reported Wednesday that OPEC and non-member oil producers had moved closer to a deal that would extend recent production cuts into 2018.
Current gas prices in Kansas are a relative bargain compared with some recent years, Steward said. In 2013, the average price of a gallon of gas in Kansas on Memorial Day was $3.86.
“I would have expected gas prices to have been 15 to 35 cents higher than they stand,” DeHaan said. “That gas prices are much lower than our previous expectations bodes well for motorists.”
In 2014, the average was $3.44, though it dropped significantly – to an average of $2.51 per gallon – in 2015.
“Kansas has the 10th lowest average gas prices in the country right now,” Steward said. “Even if prices are up a little this year, it’s still a bargain.”
QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said although crude oil prices continue to rise, causing wholesale gasoline prices to also rise, he still thinks gas is a steal in Kansas. He said QuikTrip plans to remain “extremely competitive” with gas prices this traveling season.
“This time of year when refiners are required by law to produce a different specification of gasoline, there is much more costs to them,” Thornbrugh said. “But gas prices typically go up and that is the reason why we usually see higher prices as we head into the summer.”
DeHaan said gas prices are usually 35 to 70 cents higher this time of year than at the start of the year, partly because summer blends are more expensive and because demands for the winter driving season typically are lower.
“The fact these prices are not where we expected is the reason motorists are optimistic; they are used to seeing higher gas prices,” DeHaan said.
Record numbers set to travel
AAA Kansas is predicting more than 2.9 million people will take Memorial Day weekend trips of 50 miles or longer by car between Thursday and Monday. This is the largest number of travelers since 2005 and a 2.1 percent increase from 2016.
Nationwide, AAA projects 39.3 million Americans will create the highest Memorial Day travel volume since 2005.
“We have been in a steady rise of travelers since we got out of recession time and consumer confidence keeps increasing, so that makes a big difference on people,” Haugh said. “They have that extra money to hit the road and take a vacation elsewhere.”
Although more people will be traveling this year and although gas prices have increased slightly, less money will be spent on gasoline this weekend than was expected, DeHaan said.
“It has been a remarkably quiet spring at the pump, perhaps even record-setting quiet as gasoline prices have seen minimal fluctuation during the normally explosive spring time,” DeHaan said in a written statement. “As a result, we are finding that more people than ever will be taking advantage by hitting the road.”
“The incredible part is that nationwide, we’ll be spending $2.2 billion less over the long weekend versus the highest-priced Memorial Day weekend in 2011 at $3.78 per gallon.”
For the latest gas prices in the Wichita area and Kansas, go to kansas.com/news/gas-prices/.
Average Memorial Day gas prices in Kansas
Source: AAA Kansas