Gas prices

The price of gas has spiked in recent days in the Berkshires, and could top out around $3 per gallon by Memorial Day, according to AAA Northeast.

PITTSFIELD — The average gas price in the nation hit $3 a gallon for the first time since October 2014 on Wednesday, and it’s a good bet prices get that high in the Berkshires in the coming days as well.

Blame for the recent spike falls on the recent cyberattack on the Texas pipeline that supplies 45 percent of the Northeast’s gas supply, said Mark Schieldrop, a spokesman for AAA Northeast.

But he said don’t expect to see the same sort of long lines and shortages that have plagued some Southeastern states, where gas stations are literally running out of fuel.

“It’s highly unlikely,” he said, noting that foreign gasoline imports and other pipelines can supplement the Northeastern supply.

“Here in New England we have other ways to import fuel so we’re not entirely dependent on that pipeline,” Schieldrop said. “It ends around New York Harbor so north of that we have other sources. We don’t expect any widely reported shortages. If anybody feels that they have to panic-buy that’s not a great idea.”

Still, the state’s average gas price has crept up 8 cents over the last week to $2.89 per gallon on Thursday, including a 3-cent surge over the last four days.

“The natural trend is showing upward,” he said, “it’s hard say if we’re exactly near the top yet, but I certainly would not be stunned if we were at $3 a gallon by Memorial Day.”

In Berkshire County, the average gas price Thursday was also $2.89 per gallon, according to AAA. But prices are higher in other areas of Massachusetts, particularly in the eastern part of the state. On Cape Cod and the Islands Thursday, the average gas price was $4.01 in Nantucket, $3.71 in Dukes County (Martha’s Vineyard) and $2.97 in Barnstable County, according to AAA Northeast’s daily statistics.

Colonial Pipeline Co., which operates the 5,500-mile spur between Texas and New Jersey, began operating the pipeline again Thursday, almost a week after being shut down amid a cyberattack.

“It’s going to take some time to sort this out,” Schieldrop said. “I didn’t know this but in that pipeline fuel travels about 5 mph through it so it takes about 15 to 18 days for fuel from Texas to reach all the way up to New Jersey. So there’s a little bit of lag time between when the situation gets operational and everything is basically flowing back to normal.

“This time of year we traditionally see an increase in prices as we head into the summer so there was a natural curve plus pent up demand plus strong economic indicators that would all push prices upward ,” he said. “Now we have this pipeline issue which is going to give it even more upward pressure.

“It’s kind of a triple whammy, I guess you could say.”

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Michael Lipton, the vice president of Pittsfield-based Lipton Energy, which operates several Berkshire County gas stations, said his company has yet to see any substantial increases in fuel prices.

“Obviously, we know what happened with the pipeline and the news, and it’s creating sort of a mass hysteria more down in the Southeast than it is here even though there are little bits of it in the Northeast,” he said.

“We haven’t seen any really wild price swings yet,” he said. “It’s definitely going up steadily.”

Lipton doesn’t think those wild price swings will occur in the Berkshires.

“It’s hard to say. I hope not,” he said. “It’s sort of a time will tell [situation]. It sounds like they’re getting everything back on line this week.

“Yes, it’s a disruption, and that always affects the price. But I’ve talked to companies that I know in the Southeast and they’re hardly able to get any product right now.

“It’s impossible to say where it will end up,” Lipton said, referring to the increase in gas prices here. “I wish I knew.”

With the pandemic restrictions easing, AAA is predicting a 60 percent increase in travelers nationally during Memorial Day weekend, with 37 million people expected to travel more than 50 miles from home. Although the projected increase is impressive, the number of holiday travelers is still 6 million fewer than it was pre-pandemic, when 23 million traveled.

In Massachusetts, more than 900,000 state residents are expected to travel, a significant increase from the 561,000 who traveled in 2020. Of that total sum, 842,000 are expected to travel by car, well above the 551,000 state residents who drove last year.

If gas prices do hit the $3 mark locally right before Memorial Day, that increase isn’t expected to have an impact on the number of people who travel to the Berkshires that weekend.

“We’ve definitely had this issue a few times over the years and had it conflict with key weekends or seasons,” said Jonathan Butler, the president and CEO of 1Berkshire. “We’ve never been able to quantify any difference or measurable impact based on gas prices.

“For people who are day trippers and are coming from a few hours away it could influence their decision on whether or not to come to the Berkshires,” Butler said. “But on the flip side, people that may have been planning to travel further might opt to come to the Berkshires because it’s closer.”

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755.