V.I. retail gasoline prices continue to hold steady at double the U.S. average and $1.50 more per gallon than neighboring Puerto Rico, despite months of declining prices around the world, according to the latest survey from the V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs.
As of Jan. 26, on St. Thomas the lowest price was $3.579 for regular at multiple locations, with an average price of $3.787. For premium on St. Thomas, the lowest price was $4.169 at Home Town and an average price of $4.315, according to DLCA.
St. John, as always, had the highest prices, with $4.119 for regular at Race Track and $4.139 at E & C.
Premium was $4.349 at Race Track and $4.369 at E & C.
The best price on St. Croix was $3.629 for regular at Lower Love Service Station and $3.85 for premium at Super Tank Service Station. St. Croix average prices were $3.656 for regular and $3.960 for premium.
Those prices contrast with a $2.044 average price in the U.S. for regular, as of Jan. 26, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
Not only are V.I. prices drastically higher than the U.S. mainland, but also much higher than neighboring Puerto Rico, where much of the territory’s wholesale fuel is now being purchased. A call to Central Gulf gasoline station in San Juan Friday found retail gasoline prices of 55 cents per liter for regular and 67 cents for premium, including taxes. That comes to $2.082 per gallon for regular, which is a full $1.50 per gallon less than the least expensive regular gasoline available in the territory.
V.I. prices began diverging from national trends last July. It began when, on July 26, the Hovensa rack rate began diverging from the national trend, going up from $3.25 to $3.36 while national prices dropped. Hovensa held prices nearly steady ever since, dropping to $3.28 in November and staying there, while nationally, both wholesale rack prices and retail prices at the pump have steadily declined.
In October, the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs requested Hovensa explain its pricing, and the shuttered refinery responded that it was not making new purchases of fuel to sell at the rack, but selling off what was already purchased. The refinery has announced it will not purchase more fuel and should be completely out of fuel at present, according to its most recent projection. Gasoline in the territory is being purchased and shipped in by barge in tanker-truck quantities, and stored in private facilities on St. Thomas.
DLCA issued a statement Friday, saying it is looking for evidence of price gouging at the pump.
"While the department remains cognizant of the fact that many of our gasoline retailers’ remaining supplies of gasoline are supplies purchased from Hovensa, at a time the market prices were higher, we also are aware that there are retailers who have since purchased new supplies from other wholesalers at reduced cost," DLCA Commissioner Devin Carrington said in a statement.
Carrington said DLCA will use its legal authority to ensure “that prices being charged to consumers at the pump, accurately reflect the reduced cost paid those by retailers so that those reduced costs are passed on to the Virgin Islands consumer."
He said if unreasonable prices are being charged consumers that do not accurately reflect the cost savings enjoyed by a retailer, DLCA will use "all measures provided by statute to abate such activity, up to and including enforcement action against offenders."
While it is understood that the price of oil and gas are subject to world market prices over which the retailers have no control, the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs intends to exercise its statutory powers in order to protect the interests of the consumers of the Virgin Islands to insure that a reasonable price is charged for the purchase of gasoline at the pump," Carrington said.