Why Austin gas prices are rising, and why there's 'little good news' on horizon

In case you haven't noticed, Austin drivers are paying more at the pump. And industry experts say even higher prices could be on the way.

The average price in the Austin metro area has risen 15 cents per gallon in the past week, and regular unleaded gasoline currently averages $3.14 per gallon, according to industry website GasBuddy, which tracks fuel prices across the country.

Prices in Austin are 37 cents per gallon higher than a month ago and 16 cents higher than a year ago, according to GasBuddy's survey of 830 stations in Austin. The cheapest station in Austin is currently priced at $2.89 a gallon while the most expensive is $3.39 a gallon.

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The national average price of gasoline is up 10 cents per gallon in the past week to $3.49, according to GasBuddy data compiled from more than 11 million weekly price reports covering 150,000 stations across the country. That's up 33 cents per gallon from a month ago and 14 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

Meanwhile, the national average price of diesel has increased 5 cents in the past week to $4.65 per gallon.

Motor club AAA said Texas drivers overall are paying the lowest gas prices on average across the country. But that's little comfort to those filling up.

The highest gas prices in the state were reported in El Paso. The cheapest gas prices were reported in Houston and Beaumont, AAA said.

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Why are gas prices rising?

Several factors are leading to the higher prices, industry experts say, including issues with refinery operations and other things causing volatility in the market.

"Rrefinery utilization that still hasn't fully recovered from December's cold weather and refinery maintenance season that's just around the corner" are two key factors in the higher prices, said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

Extreme weather across the country near the end of last year exacerbated the situation, analysts say. It caused a series of outages at refineries that produce gasoline, jet fuel and diesel.

For example, Colorado's only major petroleum refinery, Suncor, was disrupted by freezing temperatures in late December. When it attempted to restart, a fire ignited, damaging equipment. Suncor said the refinery could be offline for weeks, and that has helped drive Colorado's gas prices up $1 per gallon in the past month.

AAA said Russia's war Russia with Ukraine is also keeping the supply picture uncertain.

“Volatility remains front-and-center in the energy markets, but overall, there has been upward pressure on fuel prices,” AAA Texas spokesperson Daniel Armbruster said.

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When will things get better?

It looks as if higher prices aren't going away anytime soon, experts say.

There appears to be "little good news on the gas price front," De Haan said.

"Because of the surge in prices last spring, many refineries that had planned maintenance deferred maintenance until 2023," he said. "With the can kicked to this year, we may have similar challenges producing enough refined products to meet demand."

Another potential problem could come in early February, DeHaan sad, when the European Union begins cutting off shipments of refined products from Russia.

Industry analysts are also watching what impact inflation and higher interest rates might have on the energy industry. Also weighing on the markets is the possible ripple effect of China’s relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Why Austin gas are prices rising, and why it might get worse soon