Gas prices up more than $1 in 2021

CASPER — Gasoline prices in the mountain states ended 2021 more than a dollar higher than they started. 

At the beginning of 2021, gasoline cost just over $2 in the Rocky Mountains, the East Coast and the Midwest, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Tuesday. But the mountain states’ prices climbed fastest, surpassing $3.50 during their summer peak and closing out the year with a total increase of $1.20 per gallon. 

The especially high gasoline prices this summer were driven in part by record tourism at the region’s national parks, which strained the gasoline supply, the agency said. The closure of the HollyFrontier refinery in Cheyenne also reduced regional refinery capacity by 7 percent. 

Gasoline limitations and elevated costs started earlier in the supply chain, however. Crude oil production, which plummeted during COVID-19 lockdowns, still hasn’t fully recovered. The price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil rose from $46 at the beginning of January to a high of $86 in October, then dipped to just under $80 in late December, the EIA said. 

“We’re still seeing about the same number of rigs as we did a couple months ago,” said Ryan McConnaughey, communications director for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, “which is really about half of the number we were seeing pre-pandemic. I think that’s still pretty indicative of producers’ caution in the current economic climate and scenario.” 

Wyoming’s rig count has remained at 15 since the first week of November. 

The current COVID-19 wave is worrying the state’s oil producers, McConnaughey said: If the omicron variant inhibits travel, demand could fall once more. 

“Production can’t just start on the flip of a switch,” he said. “Once producers decide to start producing again, it does take some time to get those resources up and going. That’s why it’s kind of a long-term decision for these companies on whether they start producing again.” 

But according to McConnaughey, it’s not just COVID that’s stalling production. On top of uncertainty about the international oil market, many are concerned about whether, and how, the federal government will change the oil and gas leasing program. 

Wyoming is the second-largest oil producer on federal lands; because the federal government owns nearly half of the land in Wyoming, any new policies would have a disproportionate impact on Wyoming’s industry. 

“It seems like we’re just in a wait-and-see mode at this point,” McConnaughey said.