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Local drivers dealing with higher gas prices

News Photo by Julie Riddle Motorist Kevin Alexander fills his tank Wednesday afternoon.

ALPENA — Gas prices have accelerated to their highest in more than a year, and it’s not looking promising they’ll ease off any time soon after a nationwide storm pushed the pedal of a price climb that began as 2020 ended.

The recent increase in gas prices shouldn’t take anyone by surprise, said Becky Bartreau, topping off her sports utility vehicle at an Alpena gas pump Wednesday afternoon.

“Texas just froze,” Bartreau said. “Hello, that’s our biggest oil producers.”

Local drivers have taken a hit to the pocketbook after a winter storm ravaged Texas and other states in recent days, leaving millions without electricity and water and several dozen people dead.

Spared the brutal physical effects of the storm, Northeast Michiganders have felt its impact as local gas prices surged — a response to the closure of multiple oil refineries crippled by the storm, according to Adrienne Woodland, spokeswoman for AAA of Michigan.

The current Michigan average of $2.63 per gallon is the highest since October 2019, according to Woodland.

After a gradual climb during the first weeks of the year, attributed by Woodland to increasing crude oil prices, average gas prices jumped by 17% in the last week.

About a dozen storm-impacted refineries are expected to resume operations within a few days, and numbers at the pump may inch down in response, Woodland reported.

Crude oil prices are still high, however, and fuel delivery is still slowed by the storm, so a drastic decrease is probably not in the cards anytime soon.

Gas typically follows an annual pattern of low prices in the winter, price increases in the spring — when refineries switch to a more expensive summer blend — and again in summer, when vacations and warm-weather outings increase demand. Prices typically slide downward again in autumn as demand decreases and suppliers switch to a winter blend.

In 2020, that pattern went out the window, Woodland said.

The highest gas price for the year was in January. From there, the cost to fill a tank tumbled as Michiganders elected to “stay home, stay safe,” following state officials’ orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The year’s low per-gallon price came in April, according to Woodland. As stay-home restrictions were lifted and demand increased, gas prices crept higher.

After the uncharted territory that was 2020, it’s hard to predict what gas prices will do in 2021, Woodland said.

In a survey conducted by AAA in January, 62% of Michigan residents said they are uncomfortable travelling during the pandemic. How that affects the demand for gas — and, therefore, its cost — remains to be seen, Woodland said.

Michigan gas prices have held steady this week at an average of $2.63 per gallon and may remain stable, Woodland said Wednesday morning.

As of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening, prices at some Alpena gas stations had jumped by 19 cents per gallon.

Kevin Alexander, of Alpena, filled the tank of his pickup truck on Wednesday, shortly before the 19-cent price hike.

The truck gets 9 to 11 miles per gallon, so any increase in gas prices hurts, said Alexander, who combines errands as much as possible to keep his costs down.

“I think it’s sad that they had to jump up after everything we’ve been through,” Alexander said.

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