More than $4 a gallon? Ukraine crisis, summer blend will mean pain at the pump

Some suburban drivers are seeing gas costs rising to more than $4 a gallon due to a combination of familiar trends and multiple unknowns resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, experts say.

Russia is the world's second largest oil producer, so any supply disruptions mean markets will react by raising prices, AAA expects.

But there's "so much volatility. It is a day-to-day situation ... and we don't know what will happen and how this conflict will end, so it's hard to predict what spring break gas prices will look like," AAA's Molly Hart said.

GasBuddy's Head of Petroleum Analysis Patrick De Haan thinks it's not a given the Ukrainian conflict will cause a prolonged spike.

"The situation in Russia is very fluid and could change at a moment's notice, but (crude) oil prices that had touched $100 a barrel Thursday are now down to $92," he said Friday.

Prices per gallon averaged about $3.97 a gallon Sunday in the region compared to $3.81 a week ago, AAA reported.

There is the chance Russia may react to economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies, but so far those measures skirt the energy sector, De Haan noted. Russia could "lash out" and cut oil exports, but that would be "shooting themselves in the foot because they receive a significant portion of their GDP from the sale of oil."

However, "Russia isn't exactly the most stable in terms of what decisions they're making at this point," he added.

What is certain? That annual pain in the wallet - cleaner and costlier summer fuel - is coming and already affecting the market, De Haan said Friday.

Typically, summer gas costs 15 to 20 cents more than fall and winter blends to produce. It also coincides with refinery maintenance season and rising demand as Americans hit the road - so the difference can be as much as 75 cents.

"At least at this point, I think the switch-over is going have a larger effect than Russia," De Haan said.

One X-factor is whether the Iran nuclear deal will be revived. An agreement would lift certain energy sanctions against Iran and allow more of its oil to flow, deflating costs, De Haan said. "The president is very aware of the high price of oil, and that's what pushed the U.S. back to the table."

A gallon of regular is about $1 more than it was a year ago, which may discourage road trips this spring break and later into summer.

You should know

Also experiencing turbulence from Russia's actions is the aviation industry, DePaul University transportation Professor Joseph Schwieterman said.

"The military crisis in Ukraine, coupled with skyrocketing fuel costs, have delivered a severe one-two punch to major airlines. In only a week, the prospect that bookings for European trips, and trips to the Middle East as well, will be strong over the summer have vanished," Schwieterman said.

"The wall-to-wall media coverage of the Ukrainian crisis weighs heavily on pleasure travelers, who have many other options. If, somehow, the crisis ends quickly, summer travel to Europe could rebound, but that is looking doubtful."

One more thing

After hearing from riders, Metra is reversing a decision on one-way and 10-ride passes that expired during the beginning of the pandemic.

Now one-way and 10-ride passes will be valid until June 1, 2022. The agency had earlier set an expiry of Dec. 31, 2021.

"We've heard from customers who told us they could not use their tickets before the Dec. 31 deadline because their offices postponed plans to return to work due to omicron," Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski said in a statement. "We want to be responsible to our customers and responsive to their needs."

The decision affects one-way and 10-ride passes that expired between March 2020 and June 1, 2021.

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  A combination of summer fuel blends and uncertainty sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine means the suburbs should get used to gas prices above $4 a gallon, like they were Friday at this Arlington Heights station, experts say. Mark Welsh/
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