Average gas prices in Colorado are on the cusp of hitting $4 per gallon as of Friday, with the national average at $4.33 according to AAA.
In Littleton, the average price of gas was $3.44 as of Friday according to data from GasBuddy on 10 different stations in the city. In neighboring Englewood, it was slightly higher, at $3.87. Both are below the Arapahoe County average price, which is $3.93.
The prices are similar to others in nearby areas, with more central and eastern counties hovering just below a $4 average, while nearly all western counties in the state have exceeded that amount. The reason, according to University of Denver professor Mac Clouse, has to do with distribution.
Clouse, who teaches finance in the university’s Daniels College of Business, said “it takes a special effort to get to the cities,” on the Western Slope, driving up the price of gas even more.
Being closer to a major oil and gas producer, the Suncor Refinery in Commerce City, grants Englewood and Littleton some advantage when it comes to the price of gas.
But Clouse said prices are expected to rise no matter the city with Colorado poised to break a $4 average possibly within days. And there is no immediate end in sight to when prices may plateau or even drop.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be a long time,” said Clouse, who expects it could be until next year before prices begin to drop substantially.
The culprits of rising prices vary, according to Clouse. Russia’s invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine have led to international blowback, with the Biden administration announcing this week that it would ban imports of Russian oil and gas in a bid to weaken the Russian economy. This has caused the price of gas in the U.S. to go up, but the problem existed even before Russia’s war.
“We were seeing rising gas prices even before the Russian move,” Clouse said, adding that efforts from the Biden administration, such as canceling the Keystone pipeline project and looking to new oil and gas regulations, have caused the U.S to become more dependent on foreign oil.
“And one of the countries where we were importing oil from was Russia, of all places,” Clouse said.
While it’s true that the U.S. has imported more oil since the beginning of the Biden administration, the reasons have been more complex than just regulation proposals, according to AAA spokesperson Skyler McKinley.
“The president and policymakers may say they want to (regulate oil and gas) but have not really acted to that regard,” McKinley said.
The U.S. has always relied on imports as well as domestic production of oil and gas, McKinley said, adding that being part of the global markets allows companies to ensure the most profits. With more travel, the demand for gas is high but the supply remains lower, McKinley said, a deliberate move on the part of oil and gas producers trying to make up for pandemic profit losses.
“The economy has come back in full swing and when we’re consuming we’re consuming oil,” he said.
What it leaves consumers with are the prices they see today.
It’s led to calls from politicians around the country for a suspension of the national gas tax, an idea endorsed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. But with the speed with which gas prices are rising, Clouse said removing the gas tax could make little difference.
“Everybody is just looking for any way to reduce that price,” he said. “But even if we got that 18 cent tax eliminated, that (saving) could be gone in two or three days.”
The situation has led to new urgency among some for renewed conversation on transitioning the U.S. to a greener, cleaner economy.
“The gas prices are becoming insane, and hurting those with the least amount of disposable funds the most. We need to get back to energy independence in this country ASAP,” said Littleton resident Diane White.
Much of those efforts are currently stalled, at least at the federal level, after President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate and social spending package, the Build Back Better Act, failed to secure the needed vote of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
That bill, estimated to cost about $2 trillion over 10 years, would have delivered billions of dollars in tax credits for businesses and homeowners to switch to more renewable energy as well as supported building 50,000 charging stations for electric vehicles.
“Those are solutions, and those are good solutions,” Clouse said, but added it can’t be done overnight. “Ultimately, until we have substitutes for gasoline and gasoline-powered cars, we’re still going to need gasoline.”
Even with more electric cars on the road, power plants will have to burn fossil fuels to create the energy needed to charge the vehicles, McKinley said, adding that we have a “car culture in the United States.”
“The electric car is not a silver bullet,” he said.
More immediate solutions for those looking for a reprieve from high prices are changes to how they get around from carpooling to taking the bus more often, McKinley said.
But for some, a car remains the most practical way to get around, especially for those who may work multiple jobs and rely on cars to travel greater distances faster. It’s why those who are living “paycheck to paycheck” will feel the economic squeeze from gas the most.
“It’s going to have a much bigger impact on the lower and middle income-level people,” Clause said.
Until more investments are made in public transportation and walkable communities, McKinley said this is far from the last time the U.S. will face a gas crisis.
“In the American West we’ve always seen the car as this avatar of freedom,” McKinley said. “The question I would ask is ‘is this the society we want to build?’”