October 26, 2021

‘No way to get around it’

Motorists feel squeeze at pump with gas prices steadily on the rise

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Cortland resident Brad Shilliff pumps gas at the Speedway on Route 11 in Cortlandville. Gas prices in the Ithaca-Cortland area are 40% higher than they were this time last year.

On Wednesday, the warmest day so far this month, Brad Shilliff stood in the shade pumping gas into his truck, with his assortment of lawn equipment next in line for fuel.

The average price for a gallon of regular gas in the Ithaca metropolitan area is now $2.981 per gallon, reports the American Automobile Association, up more than 2 cents in the past week and 12 cents from one month ago.

“You gotta have it,” Shilliff shrugged, watching the total cost rise as he fueled his truck. “There’s really no way to get around it.”

A year ago, residents in the Ithaca- Cortland combined statistical area paid $2.12 for a gallon of regular gas, AAA reports. As of May 19, the national average was up to $3.04 and New York state’s average is just under $3.06.

Earlier this month, AAA warned drivers the price of gas would jump leading into spring driving season. The next day, a major U.S. pipeline was forced to shut down for five days following a cyberattack. But the Colonial Pipeline hack is not the only factor in fuel prices rising; markets are changing, and even the gas is different from just a couple of months ago.

“The Colonial Pipeline shutdown created local supply shortages, but also closed an outlet for large Gulf Coast refineries,” said Justin Fisher, senior vice president of supply for Mirabito Energy Products in Binghamton, which operates gas stations in Tully, Dryden, Marathon and Freeville. “The refineries had to pull back their production, which meant there was an overall reduction in supply, pressuring markets higher.”

Tips to save gas
• Plan ahead to accomplish multiple errands in one trip.
• Avoid high-traffic times of day.
• If you own more than one car, use the most fuel-efficient one.
• Avoid hard acceleration starts.
• Avoid extended idling, like warming up the engine.
• Slow down and drive the speed limit. On the highway, as speeds increase above 50 mph, aerodynamic drag causes fuel economy to drop off significantly.
• Use cruise control to help maintain a constant speed.
— SOURCE: AAA of Western and Central New York

The Colonial Pipeline runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan region and transports about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast.

The pipeline operator paid the hackers, a group called DarkSide, nearly $5 million in Bitcoin to recover its stolen data and get the gas flowing again.

Although Southeast states rely more on the pipeline, New York state’s fuel prices rose during the shutdown.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority reports upstate New York’s gas prices on May 10 were 10.8 cents higher than on May 3, and 42.8 cents higher than on May 10, 2020.

There are other reasons for gasoline to cost more during the summer, Fisher said The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets a higher standard for summer fuel to reduce emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone and ozone-related health problems.

“The lower RVP means less of the product evaporates at a given temperature, which is more important during the hotter weather months,” Fisher said. “The summer low-RVP product is more expensive than winter gasoline. The transition typically takes place around mid-April each year to summer specs, and mid-September back to winter specs.”

Gasoline markets are constantly changing, he said, similar to the stock market, and prices can rise in anticipation of increased economic activity.

COVID-19 vaccine approvals and rollouts have pushed energy prices higher since November 2020.

Due to supply and demand of gasoline nationwide, motorists could see a continued increase in gas prices throughout the next few weeks as more people travel for the Memorial Day holiday and the start of summer, Fisher said.

However, that’s not likely to deter holiday drivers, said AAA representative April Engram.

“There is a pent-up demand for travel, we expect people to continue to travel,” Engram said.

AAA estimates more than 34 million people plan to travel at least 50 miles from home that weekend, a 52% increase from last summer, but nearly 9% less than pre-pandemic 2019.