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GETTING THERE: Deep freeze could mean higher gas prices
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GETTING THERE: Deep freeze could mean higher gas prices


The winter wonderland we’ve been living in the past several weeks might have turned into some unexpected and enjoyable holidays, but we’ll have to pay the piper soon enough—at the gas pump.

Last week’s winter weather knocked out at least a dozen refineries in the southern part of the U.S., according to a report by Gasbuddy. Most notably hit was Texas, where 11 refineries shut down as the Lone Star State fell into a deep freeze.

Gasbuddy estimated that 3.48 million barrels of refining capacity has been lost every 24 hours since the shutdowns happened.

Gas prices are expected to spike because of the refinery impacts, along with increased demand as traffic has picked up nearly a year after the pandemic shutdowns began across the country.

Gasbuddy predicts the national average price for gas could rise 10 to 20 cents to $2.65 or $2.75 per gallon, “resulting in the highest prices since 2019 and the highest seasonal prices in over five years.”

“The quicker the affected refineries are able to come back online, the better, and perhaps less painful for motorists than if they remain out of service for even longer,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at Gasbuddy.

The gas price increase might go even further.

Gasbuddy predicted that prices at the pump could reach $3 a gallon by Memorial Day.

One thing could reverse that spike, and that is OPEC, which controls a third of the world’s oil production.

According to Gasbuddy, “the market could get doused in cold water” should OPEC increase its oil production, which would drive prices back down.

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VRE and the pandemic

The pandemic has been most unkind to the Virginia Railway Express.

Ridership figures released last week show January’s rider trips totaled 20,036. In January 2020 there were 387,698 rider trips taken on VRE trains. That equates to a drop from 18,293 daily rider trips to 1,179.

Those figures have been at the same low point since April. Revenue is down $18.2 million this fiscal year.

In his monthly report, CEO Rich Dalton noted that VRE expects “to report significant impacts related to the pandemic throughout the second half of FY 2021.”

Gary Skinner, a Spotsylvania County supervisor who sits on the VRE board, said we’ll need to wait to see how vaccinations do with COVID-19.

“I’m concerned about one thing: What is the future?” he said, adding that he thinks CEO Rich Dalton has done a fine job managing VRE through the pandemic.

The efficacy of vaccinations and teleworking likely will determine how many riders return to the commuter train service.

The vaccinations, he said, could make people feel more comfortable taking trains. On the flip side, more people are likely to continue teleworking than before the pandemic.

“Will we ever get back to 20,000 [rider trips] a day? I’m not sure,” said Skinner.

He figures VRE could end up getting back about 80 percent of the pre-COVID riders.

“We gotta wait and see,” he said.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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