Shari Smith almost skipped a friend’s funeral on Friday because high gas prices left her not wanting to make a round trip of about 120 miles to pay her respects.
“I’ve never had to pay that much for gas and that’s with my Cub discount,” Smith, 72 and retired, said at a Holiday gas station in St. Louis Park, where she used a rewards card that saved her 20 cents off on gas going for $4.49 a gallon. “I think they’re ridiculous.”
Gas hit a new high in Minnesota on Friday, reaching $4.50 a gallon after an overnight jump averaging 11 cents a gallon, according to AAA. It was just the latest spike, with the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas at $4.39 on Thursday and $4.23 a week earlier, according to the motoring club’s survey of filling stations.
With food prices also on the rise, and inflation across much of the retail economy, Smith said she’s scaling back some usual summertime activities — a trip to Duluth, and regular drives to Stanchfield, Minn., about an hour north, where she volunteers.
“I’ve tried to be really penny pinching when I go buy groceries to make sure we have everything on the list, so I don’t have to make so many trips,” Smith said. She decided to make an exception for the funeral.
Michael Donahue, also filling up at the Holiday station, said he’s been keep a close eye on the price of gas. Lately, he said, it’s “skyrocketed.” He estimates he’s paying about $15 more for gas per fill-up than before, and with summer trips near, Donahue has been looking for things to cut from his budget.
“Just grocery bills alone, like a small one- or two-bag run is expensive now just to get the bare essentials like some meat, cheese and bread,” he said.
Two factors fueled the steep increase, said Patrick De Haan, an analyst with the gas price tracking website Gasbuddy. Inventories at refineries in the Great Lakes and Midwest sank to near-record lows with production down about 1 million barrels a day since 2019, a drop of about 5%, he said.
Meanwhile, the summer travel season is in full swing.
“Demand [for gas] is up and the supply is not,” De Haan said. “Nobody is sitting around and refineries are struggling to keep up.”
The war in Ukraine is also pushing prices higher. Crude oil moved above $115 a barrel this week due to fears of further global supply constraints caused by a European Union ban on Russian oil exports.
Nationally, the average price for a gallon of gas hit $4.76 on Thursday. A year ago the price was $3.04.
Stations in Hennepin and Ramsey counties had the lowest average prices in the metro area Friday, with Anoka having the highest at $4.56 a gallon, according to AAA.
Drivers in northwestern Minnesota were paying the lowest prices, on average. Big Stone County on the South Dakota border had the cheapest gas, averaging $4.29 a gallon, while drivers in the southern Minnesota county of Watonwan were paying the highest at an average of $4.62, according to AAA.
On Wednesday, Minnesota reached a state average of $4.33 a gallon, exceeding the previous average high of $4.27 in May 2013. Those figures do not factor in inflation.
It’s not clear how high prices will go, but $5 a gallon is a strong possibility, De Haan said, particularly if something like a hurricane knocks refineries offline.
“As long as demand continues to grow and supply remains tight, the pump prices are likely to continue to be elevated,” said Meredith Mitts, of AAA Minnesota-Iowa.
High gas prices have not deterred drivers yet as the pent-up urge to travel caused by the pandemic outweighs steep pump prices, said Andrew Gross, AAA spokesman. But a AAA survey found 67% of drivers said they would change their driving habits if gas hit $4.50 a gallon.
Julia Monzon, who recently moved to Minneapolis from Spain, said she was happy the gas prices she saw were less than in her home country. But gas was about $2.80 a gallon when she moved here, she recalled, leaving her surprised how cheap it was.
Now she uses an app to draw down the price.
“Gas prices are just getting so high now,” Monzon said.