Retail gasoline prices in the U.S. Midwest were as much as 50 cents higher than in the rest of the country this week, and a number of contributing factors are to blame.
By Monday, the price of a gallon of regular unleaded jumped 13 cents from last week in Detroit to settle at $3.99. The spike in retail gasoline prices follows a series of pipeline spills in Wisconsin and refinery shutdowns in Chicago and elsewhere. The impact of the string of industrial incidents on consumers in the region may be short-lived, but retail prices rarely decline as fast as they increase.
The American Automobile Association, in its daily gasoline report, states a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Detroit cost $4.05, up from the $3.69 average just one week ago. Chicago drivers, meanwhile, were paying on average $4.39 per gallon, a 10 percent increase from last week. According to AAA, the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded is $3.62. While that's a far cry from the national spikes early this year, the regional blow has irked many area residents wary of high consumer prices and pipeline incidents.
An industry analyst said much of the region was hit by "a cluster of bad luck." Last month, pipeline company Enbridge reported a leak on a pipeline in Wisconsin. A section of the Lakehead oil pipeline system ruptured there, cutting off oil supplies to Chicago-area refineries. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood said the incident was "absolutely unacceptable" and forced Enbridge to keep the line closed until authorities review a restart plan for the entire 467-mile pipeline.
In Michigan, the state's governor last month issued a fuel emergency in response to the rupture of pipeline that released 1,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline in eastern Wisconsin. Gov. Rick Snyder's emergency declaration lifted the restrictions placed on long-haul truckers so they could deliver retail petroleum products. Less than two weeks later, Enbridge confirmed that 1,200 barrels of oil spilled from Line 14 in central Wisconsin. A nearby resident said the pipeline "blew like an oil well."
Enbridge maintains that "better than 99.999 percent" of the time, there are no problems with its vast network of oil pipelines in the United States. When accidents do happen, however, they're costly. Last year's oil spill in Michigan, on the same network as the Wisconsin leak, was the costliest onshore incident in U.S. history and EPA authorities are still reporting sheen in some of the waterways soiled by the release. Refineries, meanwhile, have shut down at a time when the region is using "summertime gasoline," a blend not manufactured very much outside of the Midwest.
Patrick DeHaan, a petroleum analyst at reporting website gasbuddy.com, told a Chicago newspaper that the regional spike in gasoline prices is temporary and likely "the last hiccup" for the summer. Nevertheless, gasoline prices rarely experience a 10 percent decline overnight.
"As we all know, (retail prices) only move down by pennies per day," he said.
By Daniel Graeber of Oilprice.com
—This story originally appeared on Oilprice.com.