According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in Utah runs about $3.69. By comparison, AAA says the average cost of a gallon of regular gas in the neighboring states of Nevada, Colorado and Idaho are $3.72, $3.57 and $3.75, respectively. Of the lower 48 states, California holds the dubious honor of having the highest average price at $4.04 per gallon.
Relatively higher gas prices in the summer months are not a new phenomenon in the U.S. With many families piling into SUVs to hit the road for vacations, the seasonal increase in demand for gas is well-documented. Upward pressure on gas prices is also resulting from a range of other factors.
Continued political unrest in the Middle East is receiving some of the blame for higher oil prices and the resulting higher gasoline prices. In the U.S., some recent glitches at a few oil refineries have affected the refining capacity and are likely additional reasons the price for gas remains relatively high.
Another potential contributing factor to the elevated level of gas prices across the U.S. is the rising price of Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs. Every gallon of renewable fuel in the U.S. is assigned a specific 36-digit serial number. This number allows the Environmental Protection Agency to track and oversee enforcement of regulatory requirements for the inclusion of renewable fuels in the blended gasoline sold to the public.
As mandated under the EPA’s program for renewable fuel standards, all gasoline produced for consumption in the U.S. is required to have a certain amount of renewable fuel in its composition or have the same amount of RIN credits.
Prices for RIN credits have soared over the past 12 months. From a reported low point of less than 5 cents per gallon for these credits in September 2012, the price has increased to approximately $1.40. As these RIN credits represent a gallon of renewable fuel, or ethanol, which will be blended with petroleum to yield gasoline, the price increase in RINs is not completely correlated with the price changes at the pump.
In theory, oil companies could produce more ethanol, which would facilitate the creation of additional RINs and likely result in lower prices. Economics may not justify the production of additional renewable fuels, as RINs can be purchased from other producers or those who may speculate in the RIN marketplace.
Many domestic and international factors affect the price of gasoline available in the U.S. There are multiple taxes, supply, and demand variables and costs associated with the regulations imposed by the EPA and others. The end result, however, is that a round-trip drive from Salt Lake City to Disneyland is going to run about $400 — depending, of course, on what kind of car you're driving.
Kirby Brown is the CEO of Beneficial Financial Group in Salt Lake City.