But they joined the rest of the United States this week, with a gallon of gas in Oklahoma costing about $4.01 on average Tuesday, according to the AAA figures. That’s far below the average for a gallon of gas in California, which was $6.02. In Georgia, it was $4.06, and in Kansas, it was just over $4.
Severin Borenstein, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley whose research focuses on energy pricing, said that while the prices are “coming as a real shock” for Americans, he was not surprised by the milestone, adding that “with high crude oil prices, constrained refineries, and strong demand as the economy comes back, it’s no surprise that we have hit these levels.”
Borenstein noted that rising gas prices are a “substantial hardship” for low-income drivers particularly, adding to a list of economic challenges, including medical costs and rising rents.
Prices are even higher at pumps along the highway, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration: In every region in the United States, it costs more than $5 per gallon to fill up near a highway. (The national highway gas price average is $5.61, up $2.36 from a year ago.)
Still, when adjusted for inflation, prices were actually higher in the summer of 2008, said Erich Muehlegger, an economics professor at the University of California at Davis, whose research focuses on energy and consumer behavior. He added that summer — “driving season” — tends to bring increased demand for gas and oil, pushing prices up.
Borenstein said that while oil prices are hard to predict, oil futures markets indicate that the next year could see lower prices. In the meantime, he said, policymakers “should try to explain what is going on rather than create convenient scapegoats or push their own energy agendas.”
Muehlegger added that policymakers have few options available to lower prices in the short term, though some have tried; he noted that gas taxes have been cut in some states and that House Democrats are pushing legislation to prohibit price gouging. But oil prices are largely driven by global supply and demand, limiting the effect of such efforts.