With tens of millions of Americans sheltering in place, a growing glut of fuel has translated into a rapid plunge in gas prices, pumps across the country now dipping below an average $2 a gallon, according to tracking service GasBuddy.com.
How much further the figures can fall remains uncertain, but there are some service stations now pumping regular unleaded for as little $1.17 a gallon. There is a “strong possibility” that fuel could drop below the $1 mark in many locations, according to GasBuddy Analyst Patrick DeHaan.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a collapse in prices, even including the Great Recession,” said DeHaan. “What we’re witnessing is easily going to go down as the great collapse in oil demand, and for motorists hurrying to fill up today, they’re wasting their money as prices will continue to drop in the days ahead.”
Global petroleum prices began tumbling last month due to a feud between Saudi Arabia and Russia, but the downturn accelerated as the coronavirus began to spread across the United States and more and more locations asked citizens to shelter in place or work from home.
That has translated into a spectacular plunge in demand, as analyst DeHaan noted, something further backed up traffic data. Real-time tracking information provided by TomTom and Inrix show as much as a
in as much as a 70 to 80% decline traffic in some of the cities hit hardest by COVID-19, the disease caused by the SAR-CoV2 virus. Even in cities not under lockdown, traffic has fallen substantially, the data reveal.
Nationwide, demand for gas has fallen by as much as half, according to the AAA. During normal times, the situation would be reversed. With temperatures rising across the country, this is when gas sales would begin to rise as more and more people start to travel again.
As of midday Monday, the average U.S. price for self-serve unleaded regular was $1.960. That was down 1.3 cents from Sunday and 46.9 cents from a month earlier. On March 30, 2019, the price stood at $2.701.
GasBuddy’s numbers are a bit lower than what some others are showing. But while the AAA still shows a national average of $2.013, that figure is rapidly dipping towards a drop below the $2 mark.
Both tracking services show a wide disparity, with prices almost solidly well below $2 in the middle of the country. Both show the lowest numbers in Oklahoma, around $1.57 a gallon In some parts of the Sooner State stations are pumping regular for around $1.17.
The highest prices in the U.S. can, as usual, be found on the West Coast. Among the Lower 48, GasBuddy shows California averaging $3.017 as of midday Monday, with lows of $2.514 and highs of as much as $3.446.
Prices along the East Coast vary significantly, from an average $1.877 in Virginia to $2.326 in New York. The mid-Atlantic states have the highest prices along the Atlantic coastline.
With the White House on Sunday advising the country that social distancing guidelines will remain in effect through the end of April, experts anticipate that fuel prices aren’t likely to reverse course for at least a month or more, especially as similar steps are enacted around the world in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.