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Gas Prices Rising As Stay-At-Home Orders Lift, But Could Stay Low For Months

Tim Lambert
Drivers fill up on gas at a Flying J on April 1, 2020.

Gas prices tumbled over the past two months as the economy shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

But they’re starting to go back up as some states, including Pennsylvania, take steps to reopen.

The commonwealth’s average price at the pump was $2.68 a gallon in late February. That fell to $1.96 by early May before rising to $2.05 as of May 11, according to the price-tracking website GasBuddy.

“This may be the trajectory that we stay on, an upward trend, unless we get some sort of second wave of shutdowns,” said Patrick DeHaan, the site’s head of petroleum analysis.

Gasoline usually gets more expensive in the summer months as people hit the road for vacations and refineries switch to making costlier summer gas blends.

But DeHaan said it could take months for prices to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Demand could stay low if unemployment remains high.

DeHaan said it’s possible there could be a permanent culture shift as people get used to working from home.

Andrew Kleit, a professor of energy and environmental economics at Penn State, said prices will likely stay low as long as there is some level of quarantine in place in response to the coronavirus.

He said gas prices are driven by consumer demand, and how well gas companies can respond to it.

Producers found themselves with a glut of oil as demand dropped off, briefly sending crude oil prices into negative territory in April.

Kleit said it’s generally more economical for companies to sell gas sooner and more cheaply, rather than pay for storage.