Area residents enjoy lower gas prices, Del. average at $2.19

Regular gas was $2.15.9 per gallon at the Royal Farms on South State Street in Dover on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — Kevin Emory looked out the window early Thursday afternoon and enjoyed the view.

The clear skies on a sunny, slightly warm day brought a nice look for sure, but there was more to see.

The Duck Creek Shell gas station owner witnessed all eight pumps in use, four fueling out-of-state vehicles and four from Delaware.

The impact of low gasoline prices has been a boon for his bottom line, Mr. Emory said.

“Obviously, our sales are up from a year ago,” he said.

Situated just off the Del. 1 exit and across U.S. 13 from a rest stop, the Duck Creek Shell is a magnet for highway travelers prone to hit the road, he said.

“We’re busy during the day with regular customers who are in by 6 p.m. and highway travelers throughout the day,” he said. “On weekends, the traffic is nonstop. A lot of people see signs for the rest stop and think we’re the rest stop and come in here right off the highway.”

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic on Friday, the average cost of gas in Delaware was $2.19 per gallon, down from $2.24 a week ago. The cost was $2.44 per gallon at the same time in 2019.

The national gas price average of the $2.11 was the lowest to start November since 2004, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, whose spokeswoman Jana Tidwell said, “If crude oil continues to push cheaper, we could see the national average drop below $2 a gallon before the end of the year.”

The lowered fuel costs during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic “are what is keeping us going at the moment,” said Tiah Walton, the store manager of Country Corners Market in Milford.

Folks who may be struggling financially can at least take to the road, but that puts extra stress on the budget, too, she said.

“Many people are jobless or may have decided not to travel but the affordable gas prices have at least allowed them to get out more than they would have been able to,” she said.

“When they come here to buy gas, then they may also buy snacks. Even though they’re not buying meals as much, the small purchase items add up for us.”

While 10,000-gallon gasoline deliveries aren’t quite as frequent, Ms. Walton said, “We’re slowly getting back to normal, but there was a phase where this place was a ghost town.”

In Dover, Liberty Gas Station owner Ricky Patel said his business is selling 6,000 gallons of gas weekly, which is the maximum capacity for his storage tanks.

According to Mr. Patel, gas was $1.86 a gallon last week at his station and $2.01 Thursday. He’s owned the station for two months and said he’s intentionally lowered prices from what’s already a low-cost market.

Besides steady gas sales, Mr. Patel said cigarette purchases have risen noticeably.

“A lot of people have lost their jobs and are struggling day to day, so this is the best I can do to help them,” he said. “The ones who do work have to drive to get there, and that may be a challenge.

“I’m not worrying about any profits right now but want to keep a good price for the customers. A lot of people say, ‘Thank you for being so cheap.’”

Holding a nozzle while fueling his vehicle at the Shore Stop at the intersection of U.S. 13 and Del. 71 in Townsend, Jeff Williams explained why the low prices were beneficial.

“I travel a lot to take care of my elderly parents near Elkton, Maryland,” he said.

Every little bit helps, and Mr. Williams said it was nice to have a few extra bucks in his wallet to help support his parents.
“That’s been nice,” he said. “It makes it a bit easier to buy them food and whatever else they need.”

At the same convenience store, Townsend’s Joe Pearson said the impact on finances has been “so-so.”

Mr. Pearson described himself as a tactical driver, often looking for the best deal when it comes to filling his tank. He said he isn’t as choosy when a smaller amount of regular is needed but pays more attention based on the number of gallons.

As to the effect of gas prices on his travel plans, “It’s been no factor at all,” Mr. Pearson said.

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Ken Grant, significant lifestyle changes due to COVID-19’s arrival in March — fewer flights, shutdown of cruises and less traffic for daily commutes — brought a dramatic decrease in the demand for gas and oil, leading to lower gas prices.

“COVID-19 is arguably the primary reason for the drop in demand for oil and gas,” he said.

As a result, Mr. Grant said, “Those lower gas prices coupled with several months of ‘COVID cabin fever’ can lead to more people wanting to go on road trips, while others prefer to stay in place.”

There was a 16% drop in vehicle miles traveled nationally in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019 and a 14% drop in fuel demand this October compared to 2019.

A lowered demand for gas appears to have also brought a significant drop in the price of home heating oil compared to this time last year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Myriad conditions can affect the current cost for a gallon of gas, Mr. Grant said.

“Everything starts with the price of crude oil, which follows the laws of supply and demand. This is why we typically see gas prices rise leading up to holiday travel times, such as Memorial Day weekend,” he said.

“The next factor is the operation of refineries and transportation — if there’s a disruption due to weather or natural disaster, then we can normally expect to see a rise in gas prices. One other significant factor is geopolitical developments — if there’s a decision made by oil suppliers to either limit production or limit the sale of oil, then that could have an impact on gas prices.”