Silly American driver. Did you think gas prices were going to stay low forever?
When we say low, we should really say “low,” with derisive air quotes, because gas prices never really got to what a historian would certify as “low” anyway, even after crude oil dropped 60 percent between June and January. As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt noted in late January, for 17 years — from the beginning of 1986 to the end of 2002 — gasoline averaged $1.87 a gallon.
But gasoline had soared so high over the past decade that a sudden drop late last year, which pushed prices down to $2 or less in many places, felt like a tax holiday.
Well, holiday season is officially over. Oil set another 2015 high on Tuesday, with Brent crude, the international benchmark, rising $1.13 to $62.53. The peak of the session, $63, was the highest level it’s reached since Dec. 18.
The surge — which caught analysts and experts off-guard, just as the plunge did before it — wasted no time in carrying over to the pump. According to the AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, the national average Tuesday was $2.259, up from $2.185 a week before and $2.076 a month before.
In some states, obviously, it’s climbed higher and faster than others. At my neighborhood station in Southern California, the price for basic 87-octane went from $2.39 to $2.85 in only a few weeks. At a different station across the intersection, the price has tracked an identical arc. I imagine the owners watching each other with infrared binoculars late at night, ready to hoist new digits onto their respective marquees when one rival dares to up the ante a dime.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gas Buddy, wrote Monday:
“Motorists in California are getting a taste of the sourness that will hit across the country in a month or two as Los Angeles switches over to cleaner burning gasoline, followed by San Francisco in short order, with the rest of the nation making moves in the weeks and months ahead. I’m also starting to hear more frustration from motorists about rising prices- and while the concerns are well rooted, they should take solace that gas prices this summer are still expected to be some $1/gal lower than last summer.”
Raise your hand if you’re in the mood for some solace.
Drivers are more likely to feel confused and exasperated by the inexplicable price spikes and the baseless predictions.
If you’re angry about rising gas prices ebbing away at the money you thought you were saving last fall, you can do something about it: First, watch PUMP the movie, on Amazon, iTunes, DVD or at a public screening. Second, convince your friends to watch it, or volunteer to host a screening in your city. (Do you get the idea we want people to watch this important film?) Third, sign our petition urging fueling retailers to make alternative fuels, like E85, available to consumers.
Ending our reliance on oil as the only fuel option for vehicles is possible in the next few years, but only if we act. It sure beats complaining about the price of gas.