Canadian gasoline prices heading even higher

CALGARY — Average Canadian gasoline prices are set to soar this weekend after already jumping nearly 10 cents per litre since Hurricane Harvey roared ashore in Texas a week ago.

Analysts say the hikes will differ greatly by region, with prices in Eastern Canada jumping by as much as nine cents per litre over the Labour Day long weekend, while prices in Western Canada remain relatively stable.

Prices are expected to remain high until refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast return to normal operation, the timing of which will remain unknown until floodwaters recede and damage is assessed, they say.

“There was a five-cent jump at the pumps in Ontario today,” said Dan McTeague, a senior petroleum analyst for Gasbuddy.com, on Friday.

“It went from $1.18 to $1.23 today and it’s going to $1.32 tomorrow, so a nine-cent increase.”

Meanwhile in Montreal, he said the price is expected to jump eight cents to as much as $1.42 per litre at some point over the weekend or early next week.

Gasbuddy.com reported a two-cent hike in the average Canadian price on Friday to almost $1.18 per litre.

IHS Markit said in a report Friday about 3.6 million barrels per day of Gulf Coast refining capacity or 20 per cent of the U.S. total is off-line, with a further 1.8 million bpd or 10 per cent operating at reduced rates.

It said outbound pipelines, including the 2.6 million bpd Colonial system to New York, are unable to source product from Houston, leading to surging fuel prices throughout the United States.

“Inventories are declining, wholesale prices are rising, and that will have an impact in Eastern Canada more than in Western Canada, just because of its proximity to that major market in the States,” said Kent Group senior vice-president Michael Ervin.

Some analysts have speculated that it could take months for the fuel market to return to normal, based on records from previous hurricane outages, but Ervin said it’s more likely to be a few weeks as it appears there’s been less damage to refineries and pipelines.

U.S. benchmark oil prices that fell below US$46 per barrel on Wednesday due to less demand from refineries have recovered to more than US$47 per barrel.

TD Securities analyst Bart Melek said in a note Friday he expects crude oil prices to strengthen to above US$50 per barrel before the end of September as Houston refineries, ocean import facilities and pipelines gradually return to normal operations.

Toronto’s projected Saturday price represents a 22-cents-per-litre hike since last week, said McTeague. That translates to about 75 cents US per gallon, he said, adding typical U.S. increases in affected states have been only about 20 cents per gallon.

“We don’t have enough supply in Canada and that’s an argument I’ve made for some time,” he said. “We’re just not in a position where we can sell spare capacity.”

McTeague and Roger McKnight, chief petroleum analyst for EnPro International, agreed that prices on the Prairies will be stable over the weekend after rising by five to 10 cents to about $1.10 per litre in the past few days.

In Vancouver, McKnight predicted little change on the weekend but McTeague says he expects a five-cent jump on Saturday.

McKnight said he thinks gasoline prices will drop back by two or three cents per litre next week throughout Canada.

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