Fuel2 Photo: Sean Kilcarr/American Trucker

Fuel prices return to an upward curve

EIA data shows diesel and gasoline prices up in every U.S. region this week.

Retail pump prices for both diesel and gasoline registered across-the-board, week-over-week increases in the U.S., with demand for residential heating oil adding to the price pressure on diesel, according to data tracked by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The national average for diesel stepped up over the $3 per gallon mark again this week, the agency reported, following a jump of 3.8 cents to hit $3.010 per gallon. That’s 47.8 cents per gallon higher compared to the same week in 2017, EIA noted.

Diesel prices were up in every region of the U.S. this week and surpass the $3 per gallon mark in four of them:

  • New England: up 1.4 cents to $3.115
  • The Central Atlantic: up 1.7 cents to $3.217
  • The West Coast: up 5.4 cents to $3.438 (excluding California, up 8.7 cents to $3.147)
  • California: up 2.8 cents to $3.669

The national average for gasoline ticked up five cents this week to $2.648 per gallon, per EIA’s data, which is 33.3 cents per gallon higher compared to the same week in 2017.

The biggest spikes in gasoline prices occurred in three regions this week, EIA added:

  • The Rocky Mountains: up 8.5 cents to $2.528
  • The Gulf Coast: up 7.7 cents to $2.381
  • The Central Atlantic: up seven cents to $2.698

Diesel prices are also starting to be affected by residential heating oil prices which, along with propane prices, have been higher this winter compared to last year, per EIA.

The agency’s data indicated that U.S. average heating oil and propane prices this season were 17% and 11% higher, respectively, because of slightly higher crude oil prices, colder winter temperatures, and lower fuel inventories than last winter.

Prices for U.S. petroleum products, such as heating oil – which is made from the same petroleum “base stock” as diesel – and propane, tend to follow changes in Brent crude oil spot prices, the most widely used global benchmark crude oil price. Last winter, Brent crude oil prices averaged $51 per barrel, but they have since increased, averaging $64 per barrel from October through February. Because a barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, each dollar of change in the price of oil results in about a 2.4 cent-per-gallon change in the price of petroleum products such as heating oil, assuming no change in other price components, such as refinery margins or taxes.

Although inventories of heating oil and propane have been lower this year than last year, EIA said they have still fallen within the range of values experienced in the previous five years. As of March 16, distillate fuel oil inventories in the Northeast (Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts 1A and 1B), where most heating oil is consumed, totaled 34.2 million barrels, 23% lower than at the same time last year. Total U.S. propane inventory levels were 36.8 million barrels as of March 16, 17% lower than at the same time last year.

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