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Drivers can expect gas prices to climb in 2023, but not as severely as last year

AAA and GasBuddy both predict gas prices will rise leading into the summer months. Barring unforeseen events, forecasts do not expect prices to reach levels seen in 2022, however.

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Joseph Briseno fills up gas at Petro Serve at 2921 Broadway in Fargo on Sunday, Jan. 8. Briseno moved to the area two weeks ago for work from Houston.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — While prices at the pump may not reach the heights they did in 2022, consumers may still find higher gas prices than they care for in 2023.

Gene LaDoucer, regional director of public affairs for the American Automobile Association, expects that North Dakotans and Minnesotans have already seen the lowest gas prices they’re going to in 2023, adding that prices will most likely climb from here through the summertime.

AAA monitors gas prices both locally and nationally on a daily basis, LaDoucer explained to The Forum. The organization uses data from the Oil Price Information Service in addition to automatic reporting from sales at individual stations. That information is then collected and shared with consumers looking to obtain a better understanding of price movements.

Despite being armed with this data, as well as historical trends, predicting gas prices beyond a short-term period is tricky, LaDoucer said. “It’s very difficult to forecast what gasoline prices are going to do over any period of time other than to understand the seasonal trends, “ he remarked.

Those price trends follow consumer demand, he said. In general, the lowest gas prices are found from December to February when road travel is down. As travel steadily climbs, prices will follow and peak in the summertime, often right around Memorial Day, LaDoucer said. “We would expect that gasoline prices were probably near the bottom for gasoline prices for this year,” he commented. “Come March, we’ll start seeing gasoline prices trend higher again.”

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Demand is hardly the only driving factor behind the warm-weather price increases. Around March, consumer gasoline transitions from a winter blend to a summer blend. The summer blend, which is resistant to evaporation and burns more cleanly, is more expensive to produce. That transition alone can add 10 cents per gallon to gas prices, LaDoucer said.

Overall, many factors influence the price of gas, LaDoucer explained. Those factors can include conflict, refinery issues, pipeline shutdowns, weather and the general state of the economy. Virtually all of those boxes were checked in 2022, stretching motorists’ budgets.

According to a gas prices dashboard on AAA’s website, both North Dakota and Minnesota recorded their highest prices on June 15, 2022, with North Dakota’s average price at $4.80 and Minnesota’s at $4.76. Those high-water marks corresponded with a summer spike that saw the national average reach $5.03, data from GasBuddy indicated.

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M & H on Main Avenue in Moorhead on Jan. 9.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

“There are just so many factors that impact on gasoline prices, either domestically or internationally,” LaDoucer summarized. “There’s just a whole string of issues that can force gasoline prices higher at any given moment. Some of those can be temporary gasoline price hikes that last a matter of a week or two, others can be much longer lasting like the current issue in Ukraine, which has served to raise oil prices.”

Fortunately for area motorists, North Dakota and Minnesota typically check in anywhere from five to 10 cents below the national average, LaDoucer said. AAA data from Friday, Jan. 6, showed the average fuel price to be $3.12 per gallon in North Dakota and $3.18 in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the national average stood at $3.29.

Zooming in, drivers in the area’s largest metro areas have reasons to be happy. Friday’s average prices were $3 in Fargo; $3.15 in Moorhead; $3.18 in Grand Forks, Duluth and the Twin Cities; and $3.26 in Rochester. All of those marks fell below the national average.

As far as the future is concerned, LaDoucer cautions that predicting gas prices come Memorial Day is as difficult as predicting the exact weather on Memorial Day. “We have seasonal trends like we do with the weather,” he analogized. “I can pretty confidently say we’re going to see gasoline prices higher in the summertime than we currently see now, just like we can predict the temperatures in the summertime are going to be higher than what we see now.”

History is still informative, however. LaDoucer noted that summertime prices tend to be 60 to 75 cents higher than winter lows from that year. “We’ve probably seen our winter lows already at about $2.98 a gallon,” he prognosticated. “I would not be surprised to see gasoline prices this summer in the $3.60 to $3.75 range, but again, there’s any number of things that could cause that number to be much higher or even come in lower.”

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Cenex on Main Ave. in downtown Fargo on a foggy morning Jan. 9. AAA data from Friday, Jan. 6, showed the average fuel price to be $3.12 per gallon in North Dakota and $3.18 in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the national average stood at $3.29.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

The pitfalls that come with predicting gas prices did not stop GasBuddy from taking a stab at forecasting. The company released its 2023 Fuel Outlook on Dec. 28, 2022. GasBuddy predicts the national average could reach a high of $4.25 per gallon in August.

GasBuddy’s data also suggests that Americans will spend $470.8 billion on gas in 2023. That is down from the $526.3 billion Americans spent to fill their tanks in 2022, signaling that either prices or demand will be lower.

In our area, GasBuddy’s report stated that the highest daily average in Minneapolis could range from $4.30 to $4.70 per gallon this year. The Forum requested further information regarding price expectations in North Dakota and Minnesota from GasBuddy, however a response was not received.

To gain a better understanding of where gas prices will move, LaDoucer advised consumers to monitor oil prices, which he said makes up 60% of the cost of gas. For example, crude oil approached a 52-week high at $122.11 on June 7, 2022, only days before gas prices in North Dakota and Minnesota hit their annual highs.

Consumers also have other options for saving on gas. Drivers should consider more fuel efficient vehicles, LaDoucer said. If buying a new car is not possible, families should make a habit of using their most fuel efficient car.

If nothing else, driving more judiciously can also use less gas. “You see everyday people driving in town much faster than they need to and approaching stop signs much quicker than they need to,” LaDoucer said.

LaDoucer said AAA is “certainly hopeful” that gas prices will bring less pain to consumers in the new year. The war in Ukraine prompted western nations to turn their backs on Russian oil. That decision hurt drivers’ wallets, but the key difference this year is that the global economy has adjusted.

“Given that, I would expect that gasoline prices would not approach that level again this year, but certainly something else could arise,” LaDoucer concluded, referencing 2022’s peaks. “There’s nothing that’s off the table, that’s why it’s so difficult to project where gasoline prices are going to be at any given time because something like that can unexpectedly pop up.”

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Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over three years, primarily reporting on business news. He's also the host of the InForum Business Beat podcast, which can be streamed at InForum.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Reach him at tevanella@forumcomm.com or by calling 701-241-5518. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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