Vail Valley gasoline prices are around $3 per gallon and rising at some stations | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley gasoline prices are around $3 per gallon and rising at some stations

EAGLE COUNTY — The price of gasoline is on the rise again. But it's unlikely — barring a natural disaster or international incident — that prices will come anywhere near the levels seen in the summer and fall of 2008.

Still, the increase has been significant over the past two years. According to AAA Colorado, the per-gallon price of regular gas in Vail has gone from $2.03 per gallon on Feb. 24, 2016, to $2.97 per gallon on Feb. 21 of this year. Prices are lower elsewhere in the valley, but the increase has been just as steep.

Gasbuddy.com tracks fuel prices around the country. Patrick DeHaan, the company's head of petroleum analysis, said a couple of factors figure into the current increase.

One of those factors comes every year, as the nation's refineries shut down for annual maintenance and to switch over to summer-blend fuels. That takes supply out of the system, and prices rise. But, DeHaan said, prices tend to moderate as spring turns to summer.

Another factor in the current price increase involves international markets.

No more glut

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When the price of oil collapsed in 2015, there was a massive amount of fuel in the market. Since then, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has cut production in order to reduce inventories.

That, combined with loosened restrictions on the export of U.S.-produced oil, has significantly cut inventories. Commercial stockpiles are down almost 100 million barrels from a year ago, DeHaan said.

The upshot is an increase in prices.

Acknowledging that predictions are imperfect, at best, DeHaan said statewide prices could run between $2.60 and $2.85 per gallon for most of the summer.

The combination of production cuts from oil-exporting countries combined with new exports of domestic oil could "spiral out of control" in the wrong circumstances, DeHaan said.

But gas prices are still relatively low, especially compared to the peaks seen in 2008, when prices approached or exceeded $5 per gallon up and down the Eagle Valley.

AAA Colorado Director of Public Relations and Government Affairs Skyler McKinley noted that gas prices are the highest they've been since 2015.

"That said, we're lucky to live in an era of relatively cheap gasoline," McKinley said.

Growing demand

In addition to broader market forces, McKinley said demand remains strong.

"This has been a very dry winter, so we're seeking some spring, summer and fall travel patterns," McKinley said.

And, while the state's population has increased by about 10,000 people per month for the past few years, McKinley said that influx of new residents hasn't had much impact on the state's gasoline market.

"National dynamics shape us more than population influxes," McKinley said.

Again, predictions are tricky, but McKinley said if state prices do creep above $3 per gallon, they probably won't stay that high.

The good news for the area's tourism business is that gas prices traditionally don't affect visitation.

In an email, Chris Romer, the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the valleywide chamber of commerce, wrote that fuel prices in the past "have had no noticeable relationship to visitation."

A better indicator is consumer confidence, Romer added. Confidence, as measured by The Conference Board, was pegged at 125.4, an increase over December's figure.

For the moment, there's also the matter of snowfall, which has become a bit more consistent over the past couple of weeks.

Still, Romer said, gas prices do affect locals, especially those with a long commute. But the impact isn't dramatic.

A commuter who lives in Gypsum and works in Eagle-Vail drives about 300 miles per week. That's 12 gallons per week of gas for a car that gets 25 miles per gallon. A 50-cent increase in the cost of a gallon of gas increases that commuter's fuel bill by $6 per week.

And, we're better off than we were 10 years ago.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

Chart the changes

AAA Colorado’s website tracks gas prices from week to week, as well as comparable weeks in 2017 and 2016.