Are Vermont gas stations price gouging after Harvey?

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Are you feeling the pressure at the pump? Gas prices jumped about 30 cents after Hurricane Harvey knocked out about 20 percent of the nation's refineries, but some of you wondered if the higher prices here in Vermont were really dealers just taking advantage of the situation.

"It's a little shocking to see that," said Kayla Della Grotta, who drives a lot for work and watches gas prices closely and noticed the recent increase. "It makes a big difference week to week on the finances."

And she's not alone. WCAX News heard from several of you, wondering if local stations might be taking advantage of the wholesale price spike.

To see if Vermont stations are overcharging, we checked data on regular unleaded from the Oil Price Information Service, or OPIS. It's respected by both friends and foes of the petroleum industry.

While prices certainly rose in Vermont following Harvey on Aug. 25, the price Vermonters paid at the pump tracked right along with the average national retail price.

The profit margin data-- the money Vermont stations actually made per gallon-- was more than the national average, but it also seemed to track the national trend. It turns out Vermonters were forking over bigger profits to gas stations back on June 22 at the start of the summer driving season, when they were pocketing 39 cents a gallon. That profit margin shrank to 35 cents after Harvey.

"When things happen for reasons that people don't understand, particularly if there are increases in prices, then people tend to get understandably concerned," state economist Jeff Carr said.

Carr says some of the passion around gas prices is because, in a rural state, driving is a lifeline for family and business incomes. He also says the way gas prices work is not always clear.

"It isn't necessarily the price of the product in the ground when you pump gas out of the pump that drives the price, it's how much it costs to replace the product you're taking out of the tank," he explained.

Harvey knocked out supply and that drove the price up. Carr says gas futures prices right now indicate a lasting impact, with higher prices for 6 to 12 months. And if that pans out, it's potentially a $25 million hit-- or more-- to the Vermont economy. Not huge, but enough to be felt.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: So what does that mean for Vermont?
Jeff Carr: That obviously-- people's budgets are going to be under some strain.

Vermonters may be annoyed about gas prices after Harvey, but they have filed no formal complaints about them with the attorney general's office.