Gas Prices on the Rise: What You Need to Know
Anyone who has filled up their gas tank in the last couple of months could see this coming. Having hit a low in December 2022, U.S. retail gas prices have been on the rise ever since. The increase started slowly, then in August, more rapidly. This week, the average U.S. retail price for gas reached $3.94 per gallon, an 18.5 percent increase from year-end.
Inflation on the Rise
Inflation, which never really went away, is accelerating again. This morning’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) report for August confirms what I’ve been saying since January, which is that inflation—driven by rising oil prices—would reaccelerate in the second half of the year.
August’s headline CPI result came in at 3.7 percent, up uncomfortably from July’s 3.2 percent print. The index components for gasoline and fuel oil increased by 10.6 and 9.1 percent, respectively, from July on a seasonally adjusted basis. Even excluding the more volatile food and energy categories, core CPI rose 4.3 percent in August, driven by rising costs of shelter.
Retail gas and diesel products, airlines, rail, and trucking companies, along with food and even electricity to the home, are heavily impacted by the global price of oil.
Oil prices are up by one-third from July’s lows, and now hover just below $90 per barrel. While at a 10-month high, prices remain well below last summer’s high, when oil topped $120 per barrel and inflation hit 9.1 percent. But market pressures are likely to push oil prices further in the wrong direction. And with higher oil prices, inflation will follow as night follows day.
Global oil markets remain tight. U.S. sanctions on Russia have hurt Western markets more than Russia itself. OPEC+, which includes Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia, among others, have been enforcing production limits. Iran and Russia are sanctioned by the United States, but still manage to get oil to China, India, and elsewhere. OPEC now estimates that the world will be short by over three million barrels in the fourth quarter, putting further pressures on prices.
The Biden administration has foolishly drained America’s emergency supply of oil in a vain attempt to hold back the tide of rising prices resulting from global supply constraints.
The Biden administration drew over 265 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) between November 2021 and January 2023, when it finally paused in the face of falling oil prices. But starting in April 2023, seeing that higher gas prices would again threaten the economy and stimulate inflation, the Biden administration quietly began making further withdrawals. At the beginning of September 2023, the SPR had only 350 million barrels remaining, less than half of its capacity and down 45 percent from the end of 2020.
Using the SPR as a political tool—i.e., to effect price controls before the midterm elections—was always a foolish idea. At worst, the move will leave the country well short in the event of a national emergency affecting crude oil production and transport. As painful as higher prices are, the United States should not run this strategic risk for a few pennies at the pump. More likely, the United States will be required to replenish the SPR at much higher prices than before, widening the budget deficit even further.
But the real strategic folly of the Biden administration has been the hamstringing of American energy production in pursuit of green energy virtue signaling. From the canceling in 2021 of the Keystone XL pipeline to last week’s annulling of Alaskan drilling leases, executive orders and regulations have stifled domestic energy development. This shortsighted approach has made the United States more dependent on foreign oil and vulnerable to price shocks.
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