By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
A blast of Arctic cold that briefly turned much of Wyoming and surrounding states into a deep freeze also shut down oil and gas refineries across the nation.
Refineries near the Gulf Coast and in Texas temporarily shut down, along with causing damage at the large Suncor refinery in Commerce City just north of Denver along the Front Range of the Rockies.
“The late December winter storm and its frigid temperatures caused gas prices to spike, with refineries … forced to shut down temporarily,” reports AAA.
Gas Prices On The Rise
Along with increased holiday travel causing more demand for gasoline, people are noticing prices at the pump rising again after six months of a steady decline.
AAA reports prices for regular unleaded gas nationwide is up 12 cents since last week at an average of $3.285 a gallon. Wyoming is trending lower at $3.026 a gallon.
The highest-priced gas in the Cowboy State is in Teton County, which as of Thursday averages $3.854 per gallon. The lowest average is Natrona County at $2.526.
That’s up last Thursday and about even from where gas prices were a month ago.
Although prices are rising again, they’re still far below the all-time high in Wyoming when prices spiked at $4.90 a gallon July 1. Diesel fuel also hit an all-time high over the summer at $5.72 on June 29.
Big Price Jump
While the average price of gas in Wyoming has creeped up over the past month, some individual gas stations have seen some dramatic fluctuations.
In Laramie, the Tumbleweed station typically posts the lowest price in the Cowboy State, usually 20 cents a gallon or more below other outlets.
That was the case last week when it had regular unleaded for $1.99 a gallon, the only place in the state under the $2 threshold.
By Wednesday evening, it had jumped to $2.47 a gallon, and by 6:30 a.m. Thursday it was up again at $2.75, a 76-cent increase from the previous week compared to the statewide average bump of 12 cents, or 188% more than the average.
Wyoming Refineries Near Capacity
Although the cold has caused temporary closures of some refineries, Wyoming’s production is still in pretty good shape, said Ryan McConnaughey, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.
“I think, for the most part in the Rocky Mountain region, especially over the last summer and last year, the refining capacity in the region has been pretty good, running at about 95% capacity,” he said.
Some reports that gas prices are rising because of refineries is “just not the case,” McConnaughey added.
“We’ve seen some discussion that refiners have been causing higher prices, and that’s just not happening,” he said. “For the most part, the refineries here in Wyoming handled the cold snap well.”
Suncor Shut Down
The Suncor refinery in Colorado is the closest to Wyoming impacted by the cold, and the facility seems to have been snakebit of late.
Extreme, record-setting cold damaged some equipment at the Suncor plant, the company says in a press release. Shortly after, the plant shut down after two workers were hurt in a fire at the refinery.
Because of the cold and fire, “it was determined the entire facility would be shut down and put into safe mode,” the company says.
Repairs are ongoing and the refinery is expected to be back to full operation by about March, the company says.