Gas prices for metro Atlanta up for the holidays, volatile in 2018

1:36 p.m Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 Business
Casey Sykes
12-27-17 - Atlanta, GA - A Costco gas station is shown in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. (CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)

It’s New Year’s resolution time, with all that demands of us: More kale, less keeping up with the Kardashians. And, of course, controlling one’s spending.

On that last point at least, it appears lower gas prices will be the gift that keeps on giving.

The trend toward declining gas prices nationwide and in Georgia should continue in early 2018, experts agree. That’s in keeping with a pattern that’s seen average prices fall annually since 2012, when Americans paid $3.60 per gallon, through 2016, when the figure was $2.13.

“Prices are still relatively low and should remain relatively low for 2018,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with Gas Buddy, where they’re putting the finishing touches on their full outlook for 2018, due out Jan. 3.

Spoiler alert: Expect some price volatility. What you pay at the pump will go up at times in 2018, although apparently not enough to make it feel like 2012 all over again.

“We’re not going to be setting any new records,” said DeHaan. “At times (prices) could be very close to 2017. At times, it could be 10 to 35 cents higher” per gallon.

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Georgians got a sneak preview of that scenario last week when the average cost at pumps around the state was 10 cents per gallon higher on Christmas Day than on Dec. 25, 2016. Two days later, gas prices jumped nearly 1 cent overnight, to $2.28, ending a six week period when the state average had steadily fallen by 14 cents, according to AAA - The Auto Club Group.

On Thursday, gas prices averaged $2.31 per gallon in metro Atlanta (up 1.1 cent from the day before) and $2.29 in Georgia (up two cents) according to Gas Buddy. That compared to a nationwide average of $2.43. The lowest price reported in metro Atlanta was $2.09 at the Coastal station on Hurricane Shoals Road in Lawrenceville.

But gas prices usually rise with increased demand around the holidays — and the situation was further compounded last week when the price of oil suddenly jumped above $60 per barrel for the first time since June 2015.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
12-27-17 - Atlanta, GA - Henry Haake pumps gas at a Costco gas station in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. (CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)

“This is the lowest it’s going to go,” predicted Harry Haake, a Sandy Springs resident who’d read about the oil price increase and braved lengthy lines for $2.15-per-gallon gas at the Dunwoody Costco before a planned round trip drive to South Carolina.

Still, forecasts call for things to revert pretty much to form right around the time you (should) kick your Christmas tree to the curb.

“We may see moderate increases at the pump this week, but the downward trend should resume in the new year,” Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for AAA - The Auto Club Group, said last Wednesday. That was midway through the 10-day period when a record-breaking 107 million Americans were predicted to be traveling, the bulk of them (97.4 million) by automobile. “After the holidays, gasoline takes a sharp turn lower because fewer people take extended road trips in January.”

That’s welcome news to metro Atlantans like Roberto Castillo.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
12-27-17 - Atlanta, GA - Roberto Castillo, an employee of Castle Painting, keeps an eye on a gas pump at a Kroger gas station in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. (CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)

“I believe it will be good for business,” Castillo said while pumping $30 worth of fuel into a truck from Castle Painting & Remodeling — one of ten vehicles belonging to the company owned by his brother. At $2.24 per gallon, the price was right at the busy Kroger location on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. Still, it was the cost of fueling his personal vehicle going forward that had the Marietta resident sounding hopeful — if ever watchful.

“I do worry (about the price of gas),” said Castillo, who estimated he fills up twice a week. “But what are you going to do? You have to have gas.”

Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Hurricane Irma brought widespread damage and many evacuees from Florida to Georgia in mid-September, raising gas prices and demand.HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Making longer-range gas price forecasts is a bit like trying to predict the weather months from now. And in fact, along with oil prices, weather is one of the variables that can have a major impact on what we pay at the pump — or even whether we get to pay it at all. Exhibit A: 2017’s one-two punch of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. On Sept. 8, nearly two weeks after Harvey first hit Texas, gas hit its highest average price nationwide for the entire year at $2.67 per gallon. In Georgia, the single day high, $2.76 per gallon, came on Sept. 12, two days after Irma had slammed into the Florida Keys and begun its march toward Georgia along with thousands of fleeing Floridians.

“Hurricanes definitely fall into the less predictable category,” chuckled Gas Buddy’s DeHann, who nonetheless sees progress from 2005, when Hurricane Katrina caused gas to soar to over $5 per gallon in Georgia and created panic as many stations ran dry. “With Irma, there was an insatiable demand for gas, but a lot of thought was put into the response to that. Governments are getting much better with that.”

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