If current trends continue, gas prices in Tampa Bay may drop below the psychologically meaningful barrier of $3 per gallon by Halloween. Unfortunately, that’s due to a mix of good reasons and bad reasons.
On the good side, prices are falling because there have been no monster-sized storms disrupting petroleum production in the Gulf of Mexico. That helps keep inventories high, which eventually helps push down prices at the pump. That dynamic has helped pull gas prices down from a high of near $4 a gallon in February for a gallon of regular unleaded to about $3.20 now, and prices are now 40 cents a gallon cheaper than this time last year.
“Motorists would have most likely seen gas prices drop even more from last week had [tropical storm] Karen not caused Gulf refineries to make precautionary shutdowns,” said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.
On the bad side, prices are falling due to the mixture of a direct and perceived impact from the federal government shutdown. As energy traders try to forecast how the economy will react to a prolonged shutdown – or worse a debt default – there is a perception that millions of workers have stopped commuting, spending and planning weekend trips. And there’s the very real ripple effect of companies that do business with the federal government are now facing a real slowdown in their revenue, further impacting consumer spending.
“If the government shutdown continues and we have no more storms that pass through the Gulf, we could very well see gas prices below $3 a gallon at many stations in the Bay area,” Brady said. Already, TampaGasPrices.com is posting reports of more than a dozen stations around Tampa with prices at $3.05 for a gallon, though that typically indicates a drive-by advertised price when customers use cash or station-backed credit card.
Tampa Bay has the lowest metro average price in the state at $3.19, followed by Orlando at $3.22. Nationally, the average price is $3.35 per gallon. As for where the current market stands with gasoline inventories, the picture is somewhat opaque, as Brady notes, because the government shutdown also means there are fewer statistics from federal sources about the energy markets.