Gas prices returning to normal after Hurricane Harvey

Michael Hankins

Gas prices are slowly returning to normal as coastal oil refineries reopen in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, according to Denton Cinquegrana, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

Many student drivers were affected by the high gas prices and long lines at gas stations around the time when Harvey hit. Harvey’s landfall caused people across Texas to flock to the pump, fearing a long-term gas shortage.

“I remember a line of cars waiting to get gas at the 7-Eleven on MLK and Guad,” computer science and math junior Andrew McAdams said. “Honestly, I just tried to avoid driving around when Harvey hit. Prices are better now but I still try to be smart about where I buy (gas).”

Gas prices were affected nationwide due to Harvey’s landfall. Cinquegrana said the national average gas price peaked at $2.67 following the hurricane, around a 35-cent increase from pre-Harvey levels. This jump was largely the result of coastal oil refineries electing to shut down rather than face potentially catastrophic damage.

“It’s interesting because hurricanes generally just affect price,” Cinquegrana said. “Harvey was a rare instance where it affected production as well.”

The refineries affected by Hurricane Harvey are located near Houston. Even though there was some advance notice before Harvey hit, the refineries were flat-footed by the hurricane, said Fred Beach, assistant director for policy studies at UT’s Energy Institute. Since Harvey made landfall to the south of Houston, the storm surge and high winds largely missed the refineries, but the facilities bore the brunt of the heavy rains.

“There was little that the refineries could do to prepare for four feet of rain coming from above,” Beach said. “(The refineries) prepared mainly for a storm surge and high winds, however, flooding caused by torrential rain is what did most of the damage.”

Since Harvey, Houston’s refineries have been slowly resuming production. With gas production slowly on the rise, Cinquegrana said gas prices can be expected to return to normal in the near future.

“In addition to repairs at the refineries, we can also expect to see gas prices decrease due to the time of year, it’s passed peak driving season,” Cinquegrana said. “Prices should be back down to pre-hurricane levels
by October.”