‘Good news’ at the pump; Gas prices predicted to stay below $3 per gallon for rest of year

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It’s costing more to fill up at the pump in Hawaii, but experts predict gas prices will remain below $3 per gallon — at least through the end of 2016.

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It’s costing more to fill up at the pump in Hawaii, but experts predict gas prices will remain below $3 per gallon — at least through the end of 2016.

On Monday, Hilo drivers paid an average of $2.66 per gallon of unleaded fuel, up about 13 cents from three months ago but down about 41 cents from this time last year, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge report. In Kona, stations reported prices between $2.87 and $2.91 Monday, up from a $2.77 to $2.85 range in late January but also down from this time last year.

A gallon of gas averaged $2.57 statewide, data showed, continuing a nearly eight-month streak during which the average price of gas was below $3 per gallon.

Hawaii residents haven’t paid this little for gas since 2009 when the recession hit, said Allison Mac, regional petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com. As recently as summer 2014, drivers shelled out $4.34 on average per gallon.

“We think this is definitely good news for a lot of the consumers,” Mac said.

And the good news is predicted to continue: The U.S. is producing more oil domestically this year than last, Mac said, which is cheaper than relying on foreign oil. And crude oil internationally continues to sell at a fraction of historical highs. On Monday, a barrel averaged about $42, up from about $30 earlier in the year but down from more than $100 in 2014.

Slight summer upticks happen every year close to February as fuel demand increases and refineries make a federally mandated, bi-yearly fuel switch from “winter blend” to “summer blend” gasoline. Summer blend gas burns cleaner, which helps prevent gas from evaporating too fast when outside temperatures rise, Mac said. But it’s also more expensive to produce.

Hawaii drivers can expect prices to peak some time in May, Mac said.

“I don’t think we’ve peaked; we have some room for prices go to go back up,” she said. “But I don’t think prices will go up to $3 per gallon in Hawaii this year — of course, there will be stations above $3, but the average price, I don’t think (averages) will go back to $3.”

Diesel prices also are down, but not as much. A gallon of diesel sold for $4.13 in Hilo on Monday, down from $4.24 a year ago. In Kona, prices ranged from $3.99 to $4.79 per gallon Monday.

The drop in diesel prices is because of “poor demand” internationally, GasBuddy analyst William Speer said. Diesel accounted for about 36 percent of fuel purchased in Hawaii in 2015, Speer said, which is slightly higher than national averages.

Local business owners said Monday low fuel prices have meant big savings. Cab drivers at the Hilo-based Kwiki Taxi pay about $40 to fill up these days, which is roughly half of what it once cost, owner Roy Kunishige said.

Keikana Tours, which operates the Hoppa-On, Hoppa-Off buses, shells out up to $1,000 per week to fill its six tour buses — five are diesel and one runs on gas.

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“If prices are low it makes us smile real wide,” co-owner Jan Trombley said.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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