Harvey, holiday travel impacting gas prices in N.H.

Monitor staff
Saturday, September 02, 2017

A week after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, wreaking destruction and shutting oil refineries, New Hampshire gas prices are climbing: $2.55 a gallon in Concord; $2.57 in Portsmouth; $2.56 in Manchester.

From Thursday to Saturday, per-gallon gasoline prices rose by about 10 cents a day before hitting Saturday’s $2.54 statewide average, according to figures from the American Automobile Association (AAA).

And the spike – hitting the state just ahead of Labor Day weekend – is likely to continue, said one analyst.

“We expect the prices to increase through next week,” said Dan Goodman, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England, citing continuing flooding, closures and distribution breaks near the storm’s epicenter.

Speaking Friday, Goodman said the 6 cent jump in New Hampshire’s average prices between Thursday to Friday is unusual, and called the week’s activity a “major spike.” By Saturday, that average had climbed by another 13 cents, according to the AAA.

A week ago, New Hampshire prices averaged $2.28.

The causes are not difficult to pinpoint. Along with swamping highways and neighborhoods in Houston and displacing a million, Harvey, which first made landfall Aug. 25, incapacitated much of the area’s oil production.

Refineries with a combined output of 4.4 million barrels per day have been shuttered by the storm, according to Reuters. That includes a 603,000 barrel-per-day facility in Port Arthur, Texas, operated by Motiva – the largest refinery in the U.S.

The storm made a dent in the oil markets; wholesale prices skyrocketed as soon as Harvey made landfall, according to Goodman. But it took a few days for that surge to be passed down to consumers at the pump, he said. Now that the retail market is starting to catch up, the effects of the spike on New England motorists are just starting to be felt.

Add to that a traditional jump in prices around the Labor Day weekend, and the cost intensifies.

New Hampshire has long been home to some of the cheapest gas in New England, and low prices have been a boon to the tourist industry for the last six or seven years, Goodman said.

That trend will likely continue, he added – average prices, while climbing, are still competitive and people will likely still travel.

But with flooding in Houston likely to continue through this week, and refineries in New England sending gasoline south to help rescue and recovery efforts, pump prices aren’t likely to drop anytime soon, according to Goodman.

“There’s still quite a few refineries and pipelines shut down,” he said. “Until everything gets fixed, everything gets backed up and 100 percent working, (prices will stay high).”