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SALT LAKE CITY — If your pocketbook feels a little lighter this month, blame the gas prices.
Gas prices in Utah skyrocketed nearly 60 cents in one month to an average of almost $3 — the eighth highest in the nation, according to AAA statistics updated Wednesday.
Beaver County is paying the highest price at $3.19 per gallon while Salt Lake County has the lowest at $2.98 — just 1 cent cheaper than the state average of $2.99.
There are four main reasons local gas prices in Utah are so high right now, said Utah AAA spokesman Mike Blasky.
1. Summer travel season
Every April or May, gas prices start to rise in preparation for the summer. There’s a higher demand for gas during the warmer months as more Utahns venture outside to travel, and the type of gas they’re buying is more expensive, too.
Refineries are pumping out the summer blend of gasoline that’s typically more refined than the winter blend, Blasky said. It’s more expensive to produce and therefore more expensive to buy.
2. Higher global oil prices
The difference between this year and last year, however, are oil prices, according to Blasky.
Oil prices in 2018 are some of the highest they’ve been in four years, so gasoline prices are now matching that trend. For most of 2017, a barrel of oil was trading between $40 and $45. Now, it’s closer to $65 and $75.
According to Blasky, the price of oil over the last four years has been much lower than it should have been because of a “game of chicken” between the U.S. and OPEC, the intergovernmental organization of 14 nations that accounts for a large majority of global oil production.
Both the U.S. and OPEC have been producing oil at an exceptionally high rate, and it’s forced the overall price of oil very low, Blasky said. For the past four years, consumers have been paying less than what they should have been for oil.
“What we’re seeing now is OPEC and Russia are beginning to cut their production, and as they cut their production, it causes the prices to go back up,” Blasky said.
3. Oil sources
Western states typically have higher gas prices than the rest of the nation partly because the west is more isolated from oil sources than eastern states, Blasky said.
Hawaii has the highest gas prices in the nation with a gallon costing $3.58 on average. The Aloha State is closely followed by California, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho and Utah.
The crude oil the U.S. produces is often exported overseas rather than used in local refineries, which are built to handle lower-grade, high-sulfur oil from foreign countries, rather than the light, sweet oil in the U.S.
Oil used in local refineries is often imported from overseas and comes at a higher transportation cost to western states than it would to other places in the U.S., according to Blasky.
4. Local refinery fire
A fire at HollyFrontier Woods Cross Refining forced the refinery to reduce production in late March. Blasky believes that cut has significantly affected oil prices in Utah.
Utah has five oil refineries, all in the Salt Lake City area. Utah accounts for about one in every 100 barrels of crude oil produced in the U.S. and one in every eight barrels produced in the Rocky Mountain states.
“There are seasonal issues, there are global market issues and there are local issues that are all affecting the price of oil in Utah right now,” Blasky said.