Gas prices are likely to rise slightly in the coming days as Tropical Storm Barry crashes into the Gulf Coast – and supply constraints could materialize if refineries experience flooding.
The national average price of gas has been increasing in recent weeks, due largely to rising oil prices. Prices averaged $2.78 for a gallon of regular unleaded Friday, up 2 cents from a week earlier, according to AAA.
But with some of the nation’s major gasoline refineries facing potential shutdowns or damage as the storm blows through, drivers should expect to pay more at the pump in coming days.
“We are going to see prices wobble higher,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, though he said the national impact is likely to be “minor.”
Perhaps more concerning: Refinery outages – which may occur due to overwhelming rain – could constrict fuel supplies along the Gulf Coast.
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“For the Gulf area, because there is so much refining capacity, I would be less worried about pricing and more worried about supply disruption,” DeHaan said.
Still, forecasters are not expecting the type of sweeping impact that occurred in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey crushed Houston and other areas along the Gulf Coast.
Harvey temporarily cratered one-fourth of the nation’s refining capacity, according to the Oil Price Information Service, causing price spikes and station outages.
Under normal circumstances, however, refineries that manage to stay online are likely to pick up much of the slack from refineries that go down – and thus keep gas stations supplied.
“The woes of one refinery are the windfall profits of another,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service.
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Kloza said it would take “colossal rain” to have a major impact on national gas prices. It’s possible, but not likely.
Regionally, prices could rise higher. But motorists living in the Gulf Coast states already pay substantially lower prices than the rest of the country.
Louisiana, where the storm is expected to hit particularly hard, had the third cheapest gas in the country as of Friday at $2.41. Mississippi was the cheapest at $2.38, and Alabama was second at $2.41.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.