Rising gas prices could continue as tensions increase between Russia and Ukraine

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Rising gas prices are affecting drivers across the country, with average rates hitting their highest mark since 2014.

"Well, I'm certainly not happy about it. With the price of crude going up, I could see that. I'm over in Durham, and it's bad over there as well," said Jim Kimbrough, a driver who stopped at a Raleigh station Friday afternoon.

Although the eight-year figure does not factor in inflation, the trend of rising prices has been evident during the past few months. Nationally, GasBuddy reports the average price of a gallon is $3.48. In North Carolina, it's cheaper - $3.33 - though the price has increased by 12 cents during the past week.

"As we get toward spring, we start to transition toward more expensive gasoline, refineries start to do maintenance ahead of the summer which limits their ability to produce as much, and gasoline demand starts to go up. So we usually see prices go up from 25 to 75 cents a gallon from late February to Memorial Day," said Patrick De Haan, Head of Petroleum Analysis at GasBuddy.

Outside the cyclical reasons, increasing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, combined with the fear of military conflict, have played a large role. Russia produces 10% of the world's crude oil, any disruption could significantly affect supply.

"If there ends up being armed conflict in Ukraine, you're likely to see reduction in the amount of Russian oil that gets into global markets. And that could push the price of crude oil goodness knows how much, $120 (a barrel), $130 (a barrel)," explained Dr. Steve Allen, an economic professor at NC State.

READ MORE: NC gas prices were at $1.76 a gallon less than two years ago

In November, the average price of a barrel of crude oil was about $67; today, it topped $93, an increase of about 39%.

"It's quite possible global commerce and crude oil is going to be disrupted. The Russians may not be in a position to export what they did, especially if sanctions are placed against (them) by most of the rest of the world," Allen added of potential armed conflict.

While the increased rates could be here in the near future, Allen does not anticipate shortages.

"We're going to see price changes leading people to decide if I really need to get gas right now or not. Maybe we economize on trips, things like that," Allen said.

Kimbrough has already started doing so.

"I'm doing the same routine, but I do combine trips a lot more often than I used to," Kimbrough noted.

READ MORE: March 2020, when gas dipped under $1 a gallon

Changing habits during the COVID-19 pandemic have played a major role in pricing, with travel and return-to-work steadily increasing during the past year.

"The bulk of the increase over the past year, especially compared to a year ago, is a broad recovery from the pandemic. The pandemic brought along a massive shift in consumer behavior at the start of the pandemic. The commute was disrupted. Americans started working from home. Things were shut down for a long period of time, which caused demand to plummet, and oil companies reacted to that by making long-term decisions. And now as the economy's recovered, oil companies are undoing those decisions that's taking time to bring things back up to speed. We're not just seeing that in oil demand and supply, but with used car prices, the auto market, chip shortages, there's a lot of imbalances that have been created by the pandemic," De Haan explained.

Following a strong January jobs report, and an unemployment rate that fell from more than 6% to 4% during the past year, the U.S. is grappling with decades-high inflation, with De Haan adding the ubiquity of gas stations makes them a common tool for economic sentiments.

"Inside the grocery store, you may go once a week or once every other week, and it's not as in your face as those red LED's might be burning your retinas up, just staring at them," said De Haan, referring to prominent signage displaying prices. "You're constantly hit with it, even on short trips, you'll go by several gas stations, and you're constantly being barraged by this negative feeling of gas prices going up. And it's a helpless feeling."

As Americans face the increasing prices with their vehicles, there is the possibility they'll also have to pay more to travel by air as well, though Allen explained it likely won't be to the same extent.

"Jet fuel is a smaller component of the overall cost of air travel as opposed to gasoline being 100% of your cost if you're driving your car. So you wouldn't expect the same kind of dramatic changes in pricing."
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