Whatcom gas prices could remain low throughout 2015

For those still in shock over the low Whatcom County gas prices, it appears they will have the coming year to get used to it.

Gasoline is expected to remain well below $3 a gallon across much of the U.S. throughout the year, according to GasBuddy, which released its 2015 Fuel Price Outlook.

The report forecasts the average price to be $2.64 a gallon for regular unleaded in 2015, with the average national price hitting $3 only once in the next 12 months, in May.

If the average is indeed $2.64 in 2015, U.S. motorists would save $97 billion in fuel costs compared to 2014, according to the report.

Washington state will continue to have prices higher than the national average because of limited refining capacity along the West Coast, said Allison Mac, a petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, an online resource for current gas prices. She expects average gas prices to remain below $3 a gallon in this region throughout much of the year as crude oil prices remain low due to overproduction.

“Towards the end of 2014, the market showed bountiful supply, strong production and not enough demand to suck up the inventory. Much of these factors will carry over into 2015,” she said.

Several Whatcom County gas stations are setting prices right around $2 a gallon. The average price in the Bellingham metro area was $2.46 a gallon on Tuesday, Jan. 6, according to the AAA Washington Daily Fuel Gauge report. That’s down 57 cents in the past month and down $1.02 in the past year.

Among Washington’s major metro areas, Spokane has the least expensive average price, coming in at $2.10 a gallon, according to AAA Washington. Seattle has the highest, at $2.60 a gallon.

To see Gas Buddy’s updates on prices in Whatcom County, go to bellinghamherald.com/gas-prices.

The forecast of low gas prices comes with a caveat, particularly for this region of the U.S.

If a West Coast refinery unexpectedly shuts down for a period of time in 2015 — because of a fire or accident, for example — prices would spike no matter what the price of crude oil, said Tim Hamilton, director of the Automotive United Trades Organization, which represents Washington state gas station operators. That’s because of the just-in-time inventory model for processed gasoline that’s typically used in the industry.

Hamilton said other factors that could lead to rising prices include a change in policy in terms of Middle East and global production, increased North American exports of oil and tax increases.

For now, however, the current low prices are not only benefiting consumers but also gas station operators, Hamilton said. He pointed out that expenses such as credit card fees — which are typically a fixed percentage of the total price — go down when prices go down. Owners and employees also have the benefit of seeing happier customers, which is different when gas is above $4 a gallon, he said.

Low gas prices will continue to attract Canadians to Whatcom County, said Dan McTeague, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy in Canada. Much of the reason gas prices are higher in Canada, particularly British Columbia, is because of taxes, which don’t change with the price. According to GasBuddy’s website, gas prices in the Vancouver, B.C., metro area are around $4 a gallon.

“It is still a significant incentive for Canadians to get gas in the U.S.,” even factoring in the weaker Canadian dollar, he said.

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