Bad news tonight for consumers, although I personally believe that some issues will be addresssed and corrected before disaster hits. Without wasting time, let me cover the issues.
First, we have a number of refineries reporting being completely shut down tonight, including a 245,000bpd refinery in Texas and a 108,000bpd refinery in Washington. We also have some issues closer to home here in the Midwest. BP’s massive Whiting, Indiana refinery has unexpectedly shut a unit for maintenance. BP was hopeful that the maintenance would only last a week at most, but keep in mind that the unit needs to be shut-down and restarted which means that the unit’s actual time down will be more than a week. I am hopeful that BP will be accurate and have the unit back online ASAP to avoid higher prices in the Midwest market, but with Midwest prices already high, I am somewhat fearful that Midwest spot prices may rise more than those outside our PADD.
A possible price hike may happen as soon as tomorrow. I don’t have an estimated price range due to these issues listed, but it would be no lower than $1.99 and COULD break $2/gallon.
Also on the radar here at TheGasGame.com is a POSSIBLE STRIKE that could occur at some U.S. refineries as early as Sunday at 12:01am if a contract is not met. The United Steel Workers, a union that represents 30,000 workers at half of U.S. refineries that have a capacity of roughly 17.6 million barrels per day of refining capacity, may strike if a contract is not agreed on by weekend, Reuters reports.
Talks could go "down to the wire" on Saturday says USW spokesperson Lynne Baker. While both sides obviously want a new contract in place, both sides are bracing for strike. Oil companies are putting replacement workers on stand-by. Any strike would likely shut down a large portion of refinery capacity in the U.S. and could lead to a spike in gasoline prices as production dives to record low levels. This is a risky situation and one that has the potential to lead to overnight price spikes if there is no resolution. While I am also hopeful, I realize that the odds of a large refinery shut down are very small.
BP does say they WILL SHUT DOWN four of their five refineries represented by labor unions if there is a strike or lockout. BP said it would shut the plants to continue the good working relationship it has formed with the USW in recovering from a deadly 2005 explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery.
If any strike does occur, it would lead a huge blow to Midwest consumers, already paying more than the national average and dealing with higher unemployment than any other area in the country. I estimate that if a strike does occur and half of U.S. refineries elect to shut down, gasoline prices could spike almost overnight to $3 or $4.
In good news for Midwest consumers, PADD two contains the most crude oil since 1998- but we still need refineries to refine it so prices drop locally!
Like I said, any strike and shutdown is quite unlikely, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore a possible outcome or not plan ahead. Keep this in mind this week, and check back here at TheGasGame.com for further updates.
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