As oil prices fall, experts say it could take time before relief felt at gas pump

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Just because the price of oil has slipped below $100 per barrel does not mean you'll see relief at the gas pump right away, economic experts warn.

Right now, the nation's average gas price is sitting at $4.32 a gallon, up 26.4 cents from a week ago; in North Carolina, the average is $4.17, according to GasBuddy.com.

Meanwhile, U.S. crude oil prices have fallen below $100 per barrel after nearing $130 the week prior.

The dip in oil prices coincides with a dip in demand, said Connel Fullenkamp, a Duke University professor of economics.

Demand for some heating-oil products is slowly on the decline as we enter the warmer spring months and demand in China is expected to drop along with a new round of COVID-19 lockdowns in the country.

Fullenkamp said it could take at least two weeks for drivers to see any change in prices at the gas pump.

"The problem is, you buy oil on the spot market today and then it has to get delivered which takes some time, and then you have to refine it which takes some time, and then you gotta take the stuff you make from it like diesel fuel and gasoline and heating oil and everything else and then deliver that stuff," said Fullenkamp. "So it really does take some time for today's prices to filter through the market."

Still, even when the lower-priced oil makes its way to the gas pump, Fullenkamp said it's unclear how long those lower prices will last amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis and its effect on the global market.

"We have to remember that oil is priced on a global market and the global demand and supply are what really sets the prices in the U.S.," he said. "Unfortunately, for many Americans who are in that situation, long commutes and things like that, this is really a decrease in their standard of living and I'm completely sympathetic to that because there's no other way to say that. You have to cut something out of your budget just to be able to drive to work.

A Raleigh man filling up his gas tank at a Valero station in north Raleigh on Tuesday said paying $4.59 per gallon of midgrade has not changed his habits since he's retired and doesn't drive much.

"It's not a big deal for me, but for someone who has to commute 40 or 50 miles each way to work every day, it's a huge number," said the man, identified only as Michael R.

He said he hopes the U.S. learns one thing from the current gas crisis.

"Go back to energy independence," he said. "I just find it so hypocritical that we're willing to buy oil from somebody else, bring it here, burn it here, and do whatever it does to the environment but we don't want to pump it here and burn it here so it makes no sense to me."

Fullenkamp, on the other hand, isn't convinced the problem is that easily solved.

"Even if we wanted to go completely off the grid so to speak, we'd still be sensitive to these prices because at the end of the day, if I pump a barrel of oil out of the ground in the U.S., I want to sell it to the highest bidder, frankly," he said.
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