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High gas prices expected until mid-June

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Gas prices in Minnesota are among the highest in the nation, and a AAA spokeswoman said relief from those high prices won’t come soon.

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“There’s no good news now nor in the near future,” said Gail Weinholzer, director of public affairs for AAA Minnesota/Iowa.

While many cite Memorial Day weekend as the cause for gas prices that skyrocketed overnight Wednesday, May 15, in the lakes area from $3.89 a gallon to as high as $4.29 a gallon — setting record highs in the state — the holiday weekend isn’t to blame.

“Unfortunately, two of the largest (oil) refineries in the entire United States are in the Chicagoland area, and both closed due to extensive maintenance issues,” Weinholzer said as the cause for high gas prices.

Those refineries are in Joliet, Ill., and Whiting, Ind.; the first owned by Exxon Mobil and the second by BP.

“Neither will restart until after Memorial Day and won’t be back to full capacity until after the Fourth of July,” Weinholzer said. “We will not be experiencing any significant relief in gas prices until, at the earliest, mid-June, and most likely the Fourth of July.”

Weinholzer did say Tuesday, May 21, that some fuel was being diverted from the Gulf Coast region to the Upper Great Lakes area.

“That will start a very gradual decline for us after Memorial Day weekend,” she said, “but we still will not see significant relief prior to the middle of June.”

Weinholzer explained that every spring a switch is made from winter to summer grade fuels. Every fall the opposite switch is made.

“During these two time periods each year it’s an opportune time for our friends in the refinery industry to do their scheduled maintenance work because supplies are low,” she said. “Typically maintenance work lasts a few days to a week or so.”

However, one Chicagoland area refinery has been closed since mid-April and the other closed a couple of weeks ago for extended maintenance.

“Neither will have the opportunity to restart until after Memorial Day,” Weinholzer said, adding that it’s not like flipping a switch to restart an oil refinery. It requires time to ramp back up and refill stocks.

Also, occasional glitches can occur after being shut down for six to eight weeks, Weinholzer said.

“So as of right now we have very restricted supplies in the Upper Midwest region, from North Dakota to Michigan,” she said.

As of Thursday morning, May 16, Minnesota had broken its all-time record for fuel cost. Weinholzer correctly predicted the state would build upon that record Friday, May 17.

In fact, gas prices in the state rose from an average of $3.99 a gallon Thursday, May 16, to an average of $4.26 a gallon Tuesday, May 21, according to fuelgaugereport.com, a website maintained by AAA that averages gas prices reported by gas stations nationwide at the close of business each day.

Only Hawaii had higher gas prices than Minnesota.

“We have a very, very constrained supply. And when supply goes down significantly, prices go up,” Weinholzer said.

A relief from $4 a gallon gas prices will depend on when the oil refineries restart and whether those processes go smoothly.

According to fuelgaugereport.com, on Tuesday, May 21, the highest gas prices in the nation were in the West Coast states, Hawaii, North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Minnesota prices averaged $4.26 a gallon as of Tuesday, May 21; $3.84 a gallon a week ago; $3.43 a gallon a month ago; and $3.58 a gallon a year ago, according to the website. The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $3.65 Tuesday.

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