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Coronavirus pushes Florida gas prices down to lowest in a year

Normally gas prices would be climbing right about now, but demand is down sharply.
The coronavirus is affecting global gas and oil supply chains, pushing Florida pump prices to their lowest average price this year. Pictured is a WaWa gas sign in Hillsborough Friday.  [MALENA CAROLLO | Times]
The coronavirus is affecting global gas and oil supply chains, pushing Florida pump prices to their lowest average price this year. Pictured is a WaWa gas sign in Hillsborough Friday. [MALENA CAROLLO | Times] [ Malena Carollo ]
Published Mar. 6, 2020

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Gas prices are taking a nose dive, and coronavirus is at least partly to blame.

Florida gas prices on Friday averaged their lowest price per gallon since February 2019 — $2.30 a gallon, down 8 cents over the week. Tampa Bay gas, meanwhile, was $2.24 a gallon on average, down 9 cents over the week, according to AAA, the Auto Club Group.

The drop, AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said, comes from a significant decline in global demand, particularly in China, as driving is reduced and air travel tapers. Meanwhile, oil production hasn’t slowed in response to the declining demand yet, leaving a surplus of crude oil.

“Crude oil prices as a result are pretty much the lowest now in about three years,” Jenkins said.

Because of the glut, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) met this week to address the issue. It asked ally Russia, which is not part of OPEC, to continue and deepen an existing supply cut to help balance the market.

Russia declined to support the plan Friday.

Typically, Jenkins said, this time of year brings higher gas prices. Refineries conduct seasonal maintenance in the spring as they prepare to switch to summer gas blends, which are more expensive to produce.

That means a hike of anywhere from 20 cents to 70 cents a gallon.

But because of how coronavirus is affecting gas and oil supply chains, prices in Tampa Bay are particularly low this week. Some gas stations were charging $2.14 a gallon for regular unleaded gas Friday.

“For Tampa Bay, we tend to have the lowest gas prices in the state,” Jenkins said. “That’s primarily because we are a direct delivery point for refineries along the Gulf Coast.”

If gas prices continue on this path, Jenkins said, they could dip below $2.20 a gallon across the state over the weekend.

But much of the effect will depend on how the stock market and oil producers react to the current climate.

“With low prices, there could be others in in the oil industry that take it upon themselves to react,” Jenkins said. However, “there’s always that chance that we could see a bump due to seasonal factors (such as) refinery maintenance.”

Currently, three people have tested positive in the Tampa Bay area for the virus.

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WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

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