(NEXSTAR) – You might think that inflation and the war in Ukraine are driving gas prices higher this spring – and yes they are – but they are not the only forces at play. An environmental regulation also causes gas prices to rise, each year as the seasons change.
The Environmental Protection Agency requires that a different blend of gasoline is sold during the summer months than during the winter months. The summer blend has lower volatility, meaning it’s less likely to evaporate when sitting in your car’s gas tank in the heat – and therefore less likely to release harmful fumes into the atmosphere. Winter gas has higher volatility, making it easier to ignite and start your car in cold temperatures.
Why does this have anything to do with gas prices? Summer mixed gas production is more expensive, explains Patrick De Haan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.
The deadline for service stations to switch to selling summer fuel is June 1, but refiners will start producing the more expensive blend in March, so you’ll find prices rising.
“It’s like one day refineries will switch from summer production to winter production. Because of the nature of the pipelines that carry gas to market, the storage tanks that hold the gas, it’s a long transition and all of that has to happen by June 1,” De Haan said.
At the same time, refineries typically perform spring maintenance to ensure they are ready for the peak summer season. Refineries may have to shut down parts of their operations to carry out the maintenance, limiting their production and further driving up prices.
“There are a lot of logistical challenges that ultimately drive prices up because this transition is so nuanced,” De Haan said.
“We’re also seeing gasoline demand picking up with spring break travel, warm weather and Americans getting outside after the winter. So the shift to summer gas, higher demand growth and refinery expectations are generally pushing down prices. It’s usually pretty noticeable – somewhere between 25 and 75 cents [higher].”
Unlike the other things that send gas prices skyrocketing, like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and record high inflation, there’s a firm end date here: September 15th. This is the last day the EPA will require gas stations to sell 100% summer gas. After this date, the reintroduction of the cheaper winter mixed gas can begin.
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