Slowly, steadily, gasoline prices are rising

Despite Trump's tweeting, there's no reason to think that's going to change

The concept of Chinese water torture — which is more a product of medieval Italy, and was test-rated as effective by "Mythbusters" — is that small, slow drips, which are seemingly benign, end up having a huge effect on captives. Which brings me to gas prices.

Five years ago, retail gas prices in the U.S. ended the month of March at $3.57 per gallon for regular. By June 2014 the price hit $3.70, then began a decent, never rising above $3 on a national average since, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That's right: No gasoline (remember, this is a national average) above $3 in nearly five years.

What's happened so far this year?

At the end of January, the national average was $2.25 per gallon. It rose to $2.39 by the end of February, or an increase of 6.2%. Then March ended at $2.62 per gallon, which is an increase of 9.6% compared with February, or 16.4% compared with January.

On a week-by-week basis, the increases seem small. Drip, drip, drip. But it also seems as though this is just the start.

In January, OPEC announced that it and 10 affiliated oil producers would reduce output by 1.195 million barrels per day. What's more, the U.S. has sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, all of which, according to Reuters, has resulted in oil prices having the "biggest quarterly rise in a decade."

This rise evidently caused President Donald Trump to Tweet out on March 28: "Very important that OPEC increase the flow of Oil. World Markets are fragile, price of Oil getting too high. Thank you!"

There are two primary types of oil on the world market, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude.
At the start of the year, the price of a barrel of WTI was $48.27; at the end of March, according to the EIA, it was $58.71. That's an increase of 10.4%. Brent crude started at $57.10 and ended March at $67.37, an increase of 10.3%.

See what's happening here?

There are some factors that may mitigate increased prices at the pump, some good, some not so. In the first category, increased fuel efficiency of vehicles can lead to reduced demand, which generally means that prices won't rise. In the second category, there is a slowing of the global economy ("World Markets are fragile"), which also means less demand. But that's not a best-case scenario.

The point is, although there are incremental rises, they are rises none the less, and they don't seem likely to stop anytime soon.

OPEC, incidentally, is having a meeting on June 25 to decide what it will do regarding output for the remainder of the year.

One more thing to keep in mind. Although the U.S. is expected to become a net exporter of energy (which includes natural gas, coal and petroleum) by 2020, this might lead you to think there will be a consequential reduction in prices at the pump. Not necessarily.

In order for oil to be useful in your vehicle, it must be refined. According to the latest figures from the EIA, there were 142 operable refineries in the U.S. in 2014, 139 operating, and three idle.

The total in 2018? 135, with zero idle.

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