Gas prices ’sink like a rock’ in COVID-19 slide

Decreased demand amid the global coronavirus pandemic has dropped gas prices to about $2 a gallon for most of the nation.

Arkansas gas prices have fallen 12.8 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging about $1.74 a gallon on Monday, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 1,826 stations. Gas prices were seen as low as $1.56 in Fort Smith on Monday.

AAA also reported Monday the national average at about $2.01 for a gallon of regular unleaded gas with the state average for Oklahoma at about $1.56.

"This week, the national gas price will drop below $2 per gallon for the first time in four years and it won’t stop there as demand for gasoline diminishes as Americans stay home," Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson, said in a news release Monday. "Ten states already have averages at $1.75 or less."

Until the virus is contained and Russia and Saudi Arabia end their crude price war, crude prices are likely to remain low, AAA’s gas report noted. At the end of Friday’s formal trading session, WTI decreased by $1.09 to settle at $21.51 per barrel.

Gas prices in Arkansas are 43 cents per gallon lower than a month ago and stand 68.3 cents per gallon lower than a year ago. According to GasBuddy price reports, the cheapest station in Arkansas on Monday was reported at $1.19 at an Exxon in Leslie.

The national average price of gasoline has fallen 10 cents per gallon in the last week, averaging $1.97. The national average is down 45.5 cents per gallon from a month ago and stands 72.7 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.

AAA anticipated last week the national average to drop below $2 a gallon. The group’s most recent gas price report, dated March 26, March 26, noted the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline had decreased by six cents to $2.06. The national average had not been that low since March 2016.

"Pump prices continue to decline around the country as oil prices have decreased significantly in response to the increasing public health, financial and economic impact of COVID-19 and the crude price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia," AAA reported March 26. "New data from the Energy Information Administration reveals that with many Americans staying at home and practicing social distancing, gas demand dropped dramatically — from 9.7 million barrels a day to 8.8 million — last week. Gas demand is likely to continue decreasing and push gas prices cheaper."

Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy, wrote in his weekly report Monday the nation had entered its 38th straight day of gas price declines, and the first week of the national average being under $2 a gallon for the first time in over four years as motorists park their cars and shelter in place.

DeHaan went on to write that the "unprecedented drop" in U.S. gasoline demand has caused prices to "sink like a rock."

"With the nation continuing to be under siege from the coronavirus and millions staying parked at home, there's quite a bit more downside that's in the pipeline coming in the weeks ahead," DeHaan added. "We could easily see the national average fall 50 cents to a dollar per gallon, while pricey states like California will see the biggest drops to come, playing catch-up to the drop that has seen 29 states’ average gas prices fall under $2."

DeHaan also cautioned motorists to use hand sanitizer and potentially wipes when filling up, and also to shop around as the price gap between stations widens to historic levels.