Atlanta gas prices dip below $4 a gallon, but still near historic high

041522 Norcross: Gas prices are shown at a Race Trac gas station along Jimmy Carter Blvd on Friday, April 15, 2022, in Norcross, Ga. Atlanta gas prices are down but still expensive. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
041522 Norcross: Gas prices are shown at a Race Trac gas station along Jimmy Carter Blvd on Friday, April 15, 2022, in Norcross, Ga. Atlanta gas prices are down but still expensive. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Price for regular unleaded down about 13% since March peak

Atlanta gas prices have fallen somewhat in recent weeks, dropping from painfully high to just plain old high.

Since its peak in early March, the pump price of regular gasoline in metro Atlanta has dropped about 57 cents a gallon to an average of $3.76 a gallon late Friday morning, according to GasBuddy, which tracks gas prices nationally using data collected from drivers. That’s a decline of about 13% across metro Atlanta when the price of crude oil, the most important cost in fuel prices, is down about 18% since its most recent peak.

Russia’s war in Ukraine and stronger global demand are among factors putting the squeeze on consumers and businesses, despite state and federal efforts to ease high prices. That means drivers will continue to pay more as families prepare for Passover and Easter gatherings this weekend.

Gas prices historically rise in late spring with the approach of the summer travel season, which starts Memorial Day weekend.

The recent ebb in fuel prices around Atlanta reflects global trends, as well as the suspension of Georgia’s tax on gasoline and a plateau in demand as families return from spring break traveling, said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy.

“The strength in consumption has really tapered off,” he said.

While significantly down from its early March spike, the current price is still historically higher than average, even when adjusted for inflation. During the past two decades, gas prices have averaged $3.38 a gallon when calculated in current dollars, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Using that inflation-adjusted calculus, Atlanta gas prices have been much higher on a number of occasions, including much of 2012-2014. But the highest prices paid by Atlanta drivers came in the spring of 2008, about $5.38 in current dollars.

Whether the current decrease continues depends most on global oil prices, which are the largest factor in the price at the pump, said De Haan.

“We are still subject to the whims of the market,” he said. “It’s about Russia and Ukraine and COVID and China and demand, which goes up and down.”

Oil prices are set daily by traders watching geopolitics along with the day-to-day interplay of supply and demand. In the early months of the pandemic, when tens of millions of consumers stayed home, the system was awash in extra gasoline. Prices plummeted and oil companies slashed production. As drivers returned to the road, demand outpaced supply and prices rose.

A year ago, metro Atlanta gas averaged just $2.68 a gallon.

Oil began this year selling for about $76 a barrel, but when Russia invaded Ukraine, fears of a worldwide disruption in supply sent prices to nearly $130 a barrel. And while those prices dropped after a few weeks, they’ve been creeping upwards again.

Late this week, the price of a barrel of oil was hovering around $106.

Combined ShapeCaption
041522 Norcross: Gas prices are shown at a QT gas station along Jimmy Carter Blvd on Friday, April 15, 2022, in Norcross, Ga. Atlanta gas prices are down but still expensive. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

041522 Norcross: Gas prices are shown at a QT gas station along Jimmy Carter Blvd on Friday, April 15, 2022, in Norcross, Ga. Atlanta gas prices are down but still expensive. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
041522 Norcross: Gas prices are shown at a QT gas station along Jimmy Carter Blvd on Friday, April 15, 2022, in Norcross, Ga. Atlanta gas prices are down but still expensive. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Hikes in energy prices are a threat to household finances, as well as to economic growth. Most of the recessions since World War II began after a sharp rise in energy prices, although there were often other factors as well.

To blunt high prices by adding to the supply of gasoline, President Joe Biden has ordered releases from the nation’s strategic oil reserve. At the state level, the Georgia General Assembly unanimously suspended the state’s 29.1 cent-per-gallon gas tax through May 31, a measure signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

At $3.80 a gallon, a 15-gallon fill-up costs $57. If retailers pass along the full cut in Georgia’s tax, drivers would save $4.37 for every 15 gallons.

Thus far, there has been little suggestion that Americans drive less, carpool, choose more efficient vehicles or take public transit — the kinds of solutions offered in some past crises. Yet when prices rise, demand is always half the story, said De Haan.

Government action to cut prices encourages more driving, which gives reason for retailers to raise prices in return, he said.

“I am not a huge fan of suspending the gas tax,” he said.

Because every retailer replenishes stocks on its own schedule, the fluctuations in wholesale gas hits each at different moments so the timing of changes at the pump vary too. And because the companies do not release their business information, there’s no way to know if they are passing along all the savings they can.

That goes for the suspension of the sales tax, too.

Still, the suspensions have coincided with drops in pump prices for Georgia, and the other two states that suspended the gas tax — Maryland and Connecticut. Maryland, which has a gas tax of 36.1 cents per gallon, has seen prices drop 61 cents from its peak, according to GasBuddy. Connecticut, which has a 25 cent-a-gallon gas tax, has seen prices fall 63 cents a gallon.


Metro Atlanta gas prices*

Friday morning: $3.76

Week ago: $3.84

Month ago: $4.31

Year ago: $2.68

Ten years ago: $3.78

Metro Atlanta, peak gas prices

Recent: $4.33 (March, 2022)

Pre-pandemic: $4.11 (Sept., 2005)

Gas prices, in 2022 dollars

Current: $3.76

Ten years ago: $4.75 (April 2012)

All-time high: $5.38 (June 2008)

Oil prices, per barrel**

Late Friday morning: $107

Peak this year: $124 (March 8, 2022)

Ten years ago: $105 (April 2012)

All-time peak: $140 (June 2008)

Post-war low: $11 (Nov., 1998)

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*Using average for one gallon of regular blend

**West Texas Intermediate

Sources: GasBuddy, St. Louis Federal Reserve, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Energy Information Administration, MacroTrends