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Why is gas so expensive in Utah?

Posted at 8:50 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 08:01:45-04

SALT LAKE CITY — It was a great time for gas prices last year around this time. At some places around Salt Lake City, drivers could find gas for near $2 per gallon.

The pandemic had brought the price of crude oil into the single digits, and those who were still driving could do so cheaply. It also lowered the demand for Utahns to use cars. With most at home, it drove the price into the ground and stayed there for quite some time.

Fast forward one year, and gas prices are near all-time highs in the state of Utah.

While current prices aren't quite as high as in recent months, it is a concerning trend that Utahns are tired of facing.

“Fundamentals are basically what's at work here,” said Thomas Holst, a senior energy analyst for the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. "Price for crude oil is between $65 and $70 a barrel right now.”

Crude oil accounts for 60 percent of the gasoline used in cars, so it accounts for a significant amount of the increases and decreases in prices at the pump.

Holst says other factors, including the course of the pandemic and the demand increase with many people returning to work, have kept prices stable but extremely high this summer.

Utah and the rest of the West have some of the highest prices in the nation right now.

According to AAA, the state of Utah sits at an average of $3.83 as of Tuesday, which is well above the nationwide average of $3.15.

In Utah, Daggett County has the highest average price per gallon at $4.10.

Salt Lake County is sitting almost perfectly at the state average $3.823. An interactive map showing average prices in each county is available on AAA's website.

But Aldo Vazquez from AAA says those prices didn’t stop people from traveling over the summer.

“We saw that Americans were getting out there and getting to their summer destinations, especially after being cooped up at home,” he said, adding that it may have contributed to more people vacationing closer to home but traveling at pre-pandemic levels on the roads.

Gas prices impact everything from Amazon package deliveries to grocery prices.

"Yes, there is a direct correlation," Holst said. "Prices are an integral part of any transportation that occurs.”

This means as gas prices stay high, the costs of goods and services go up with it.

So, the big question is if and when those prices will go back down.

On average gas prices begin to fall around this time of year because of the end of the summer travel season but there are some other factors to consider.

The price of crude oil is beginning to fall again, coming down about $5-$10 a barrel over the last few weeks.

Second, the demand for gas is starting to dwindle — partially because of the end of the summer travel season.

Lastly, supply is going up. More gasoline is being produced, which will allow prices to drop as well.

So, while the average price of gas has stayed squarely in the $3.80s for some time, it looks like that might be able to drop soon.

Vazquez called it a “perfect recipe for cheaper gas prices,” and added that this is "kind of what we are starting to see at the moment.”