Setting a record can be a proud accomplishment, except when you’re talking about record-high gasoline prices.
Massachusetts and New Hampshire are on track to break the yearly mark for the states’ highest average gas prices ever, $3.64 and $3.59 per gallon, respectively. The record was set last year — $3.54 in Massachusetts and $3.50 in New Hampshire.
It’s part of a national trend of soaring prices at the pump, triggered by turbulence in the Middle East and problems at U.S. oil refineries and pipelines.
In the last month alone, gas prices have risen 21 cents a gallon in Massachusetts and 22 cents in New Hampshire, according to AAA.
Yesterday, the average price for a gallon of regular was $3.74 in the Bay State compared to $3.69 in the Granite State.
“We haven’t even seen any hurricanes,” said Pat Moody, spokesman for AAA of Northern New England.
The impact of a hurricane, common this time of year, can send petroleum prices soaring.
But the big problems have been continued troubles in the Middle East between Iran and Israel, and pipeline ruptures and refinery shutdowns on the West Coast and in the Midwest, according to Gregg Laskoski, a petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.
“What we have is significant supply problems,” Laskoski said.
Although tension between countries in the Middle East has typically had a significant impact on U.S. fuel prices, Laskoski said, the troubles with refineries and pipelines is a newer, but growing problem.
In the last month, there were ruptures in pipelines serving Wisconsin and Illinois, equipment problems that led to shutdowns at refineries in Illinois and Indiana, and a large fire that struck a refinery in California.
“We have an aging infrastructure,” Laskoski said.
The California refinery is 110 years old, he said.
“There hasn’t been a refinery built in the United States since the 1970s,” he said. “Everyone realizes we need more refineries, but no one wants one near them.”
Those production problems, coupled with a standoff between Iran and Israel, caused prices across the country to skyrocket, including in New England, Laskoski said. In addition, production at East Coast refineries has been very low, he said.
Steve Dodge, associate director of the New England Petroleum Council, agreed the problems at the refineries and the Middle East have had a big impact on prices.
“Crude oil is the highest it’s been since mid-May,” he said.
Gas prices in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire averaged $3.70 and $3.65, respectively, a year ago, according to AAA. They plummeted to roughly $3.25 per gallon by Jan. 1 before rising to nearly $4 in April when Laskoski said tensions mounted in the Middle East.
At Haffner’s Oil, based in Lawrence, office manager Peggy Willett said it’s difficult for those in her industry who deal with the rapidly fluctuating petroleum market. Haffner’s sells heating oil and propane, in addition to gas at 14 stations in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire. Any one of a number of factors can have a significant but unpredictable impact on prices, she said.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “It’s for no rhyme or reason why the market goes up or down.”
There’s good news. Prices should start to drop in a few weeks, Laskoski said
“We expect these to continue for the next couple of weeks and to go down after Labor Day,” he said. “As bad as things seem now, I think people will see some relief come mid-September into October.”
That’s when the demand traditionally decreases, along with the cost of producing gasoline, with refineries increasing the manufacture of less-expensive winter-blend fuels, Laskoski said.
But there’s no evidence the escalating gas prices have prompted many summer travelers to change their vacation plans, Moody said.
“It appears the record-high gas prices haven’t deterred travelers from setting out,” he said.
Annual average price regular unleaded gas
Year National N.H. Mass.
2003 $1.55 $1.57 1.60
2004 $1.84 $1.83 1.87
2005 $2.26 $2.23 2.27
2006 $2.56 $ $2.55 2.58
2007 $2.78 $2.71 2.73
2008 $3.25 $3.20 3.21
2009 $2.34 $2.30 2.33
2010 $2.78 $2.73 2.77
2011 $3.51 $3.50 3.54
2012 $3.61(to date) $3.59 3.64