Nationwide, the price at the gas pump has plummeted as normally car-crazy Americans stay off the roads and in their homes to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus, which has already killed more than 19,000 people around the world.
That decline in demand — along with a vicious production war between Saudi Arabia and Russia triggered by the viral outbreak — is sinking gas prices to levels reminiscent for some drivers of the 1980s.
“It’s captivating,” said Patrick DeHaan, a petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. “It’s just memory-provoking of a time when it was a lot more affordable at the pump.”
Last week, a BP station in London, Ky., was the first to post a price below $1 a gallon. It was followed Wednesday by four stations in Oklahoma City along with another in Paris, Tenn.
Jay Sukhadia, owner of the Patriot Express Mart in northwestern Tennessee, said he saw a 50 percent increase in customers after cutting his price below a dollar, with some driving for more than two hours from Memphis and Nashville to fill up.
“There's been a line down the road,” Sukhadia said, noting he is able to keep his prices low by maintaining a thin profit margin. “It's like Six Flags right now.”
So far, sub-$1 prices have only been seen in a select spots across the United States where fuel taxes are low. Overall, the national average for a gallon of gas on Thursday morning was $2.03 — down from $2.41 at the beginning of the month. In expensive fuel markets such as California, the price at the pump is still well above $3.
Still, fuel prices could fall even further as the broader economic downturn takes hold, and “ultimately bottom out” at $1.49, DeHaan said. The last time any part of the country saw sub-$1 gasoline, according to DeHaan, was in 2016 — though back then it happened fleetingly at just one gas station in Iowa.
While the drop in the price of oil may be a boon for some motorists, it has been a crushing blow to workers in the oil sector in places like West Texas and North Dakota, along with related construction and manufacturing businesses, who have endured boom-and-bust cycles before and already seeing layoffs this time around.
“There's an enormous amount of unemployment that flows from that," said Paul Bingham, a trade and transportation analyst at IHS Markit. “So from that portion of the economy, it's really in free fall and in crisis.”
“Drillers, frackers, excavators, builders and haulers all face the consequences of a simultaneous price war and a collapse in demand for the oil they extract from the Bakken Formation deposits," Will Englund writes of the effect of low oil prices in North Dakota. “So do restaurant workers, janitors, checkout cashiers and college professors."
The Trump administration has tried to step in to stop the bleeding by purchasing oil to refill the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve and, in some cases, waiving regulatory compliance for oil refiners and other businesses impacted by the pandemic. And the United States plans to use the upcoming virtual Group of 20 forum to urge Saudi Arabia to restrain its planned oil production boost, the Wall Street Journal reports.
But so far, those effort have been a drop in the bucket in the overall ebb and flow of the global oil market. A barrel of Brent crude, which traded at $66 at the start of the year, was down to just $30 Thursday morning.
— A closer look at the final Senate stimulus package: Late Wednesday, the Senate approved in a 96-to-0 vote a $2 trillion bill meant to blunt the coronavirus pandemic’s economic impact, Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report. The unanimous vote sends the bill to the House, which is expected to pass it Friday. “Lawmakers acted with unusual speed and cooperation to produce the largest economic rescue package in U.S. history.”
- One of the biggest winners is the airline industry: The struggling sector “would be a top recipient in the bill. Passenger airlines would qualify for $25 billion in loans and certain other guarantees and could have access to $25 billion in things like grants, which might not have to be repaid… Another provision of the bill would authorize $17 billion in assistance for companies deemed crucial for national security, language that was written in part to ensure assistance for Boeing."
- No oil-for-renewables deal: Democrats were hoping to persuade Republicans to expand subsidies for the solar and wind industries in exchange for including $3 billion to help refill the nation's emergency reservoir of oil. But Republicans balked at the idea, and neither item made it into the final bill.
- But… Some environmentalists are still worried oil and gas companies will be able to access more than $500 billion in corporate rescue funding included in the bill. “This virtually unregulated slush fund could even be used by members of the giant oil and gas cartel to buy out their smaller competitors," said Mitch Jones of the Food & Water Watch.
- And Joe Biden called for a “green deal” in the “next round” of coronavirus relief: "We're going to have an opportunity, I believe, in the next round here to use my green economy, my green deal, to be able to generate both economic growth consistent with the kind of infusion of monies we need into the system to keep it going," the former vice president said during a live-streamed address. "…We’re going to need new infrastructure going down the road here. And it’s a way to generate economic growth. That’s going to be, I think, the next round we have to be looking at.”
— Plastic industry calls for reversing bag bans during pandemic: The Plastics Industry Association sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services calling on federal officials to urge the public to use single-use plastics during the pandemic, Politico reports. Plastic bag advocates are pushing back against states that have banned such products, arguing they’re a safer choice than reusable bags that may be unwashed.
- What the group said: “We ask that the department speak out against bans on these products as a public safety risk and help stop the rush to ban these products by environmentalists and elected officials that puts consumers and workers at risk,” it wrote in the letter.
- Environmental advocates chide the move: “It’s the industry version of toilet paper hoarders,” said John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA’s oceans campaign director. “This kind of approach is, at the heart of it, cynical, selfish and opportunistic at a time when most people are thinking about how we can work together to get through this.”
- Meanwhile, in Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker (R) banned the use of reusable bags and ordered stores not to charge for plastic or paper bags, per WHDH.
— Coronavirus could threaten endangered great apes: Primate scientists are warning the virus could have a fatal impact on the closest living relatives to humans: chimpanzees, gorillas and other great apes, Karin Brulliard reports.
- Here’s why they’re worried: While there’s no evidence of great apes becoming infected with the coronavirus, 25 disease researchers, conservationists and other experts note in a letter published in the journal Nature that primates can be susceptible to human respiratory diseases.
- To quote: “Apes are endangered primarily because of habitat loss and poaching, and more and more we’re seeing that disease is becoming an important co-factor in their endangerment,” Thomas Gillespie, a disease ecologist at Emory University told The Post.
— Pipeline plans hit roadblock: A federal judge sided with North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and ordered an environmental review of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline has been challenged by Native American tribes and environmental groups, and Trump has pushed to revive the project.
- The ruling: United States District Judge James E. Boasberg “found that the pipeline’s ‘effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial’ and that the federal government had not done an adequate job of studying the risks of a major spill or whether the pipeline’s leak detection system was adequate,” the New York Times reports.
- The reaction: “After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith said in a statement. “... Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”
— A few other headlines and developments to catch up on this morning:
- A staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency's headquarters has been infected with the novel coronavirus. It's the third agency employee in total, E&E News reports.
- Jane Goodall is isolating at her England home, and spoke with the New York Times about the coronavirus pandemic, the debate about selling wild animals and what helps her while in isolation.
- The pandemic has not slowed the Trump administration's moves to reverse environmental regulations, the New York Times reports.
And in non-coronavirus news:
- The Sunrise Movement is planning to endorse two candidates challenging powerful incumbent House Democrats, Politico reports.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s tsunami.gov website had out-of-date and incorrect information, and seemed to stop working at times while Hawaii and the West Coast faced a potential life-threatening tsunami on Tuesday, Jason Samenow reports.
— When you're missing the NBA season but you're still looking for a good crossover (and some helpful information):