Thanksgiving Fuel Consumption Lowest Since 1997

Gasoline demand plunged 19.3% compared with the same period in 2019.

December 08, 2020

GAITHERSBURG, Md.—U.S. motorists stayed off the road during Thanksgiving week, while the number of coronavirus cases surged nationwide, according to the latest weekly survey of retail fuel stations by OPIS by IHS Markit, which delivers critical analytics and solutions for industry.

Gasoline sales dropped 8.4% (nearly 185 million less gallons) from the previous week for the seven-day period ended Nov. 28, bringing consumption to the lowest level for a Thanksgiving week since 1997.

“As we come out of Thanksgiving and look ahead to Christmas and the New Year, gasoline sales show that additional waves of the coronavirus are very much impacting travel decisions,” said Tom Kloza, executive director, IHS Markit. “We’re heading toward a 90-day period where gasoline demand gets further crimped by winter weather and post-holiday cocooning. By January, we may regularly see demand numbers not witnessed since the last century.”

“This unprecedented drop in gasoline demand registers caution that has gripped the nation and led many people to avoid the traditional large family Thanksgiving dinner,” said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman, IHS Markit“We likely won’t see a turnaround until the wave breaks and the new vaccines are deployed.”

The OPIS report shows considerable variation across the country.

  • Northeastern gasoline sales dropped 10.1% during the week, with the year-on-year loss at 25.9%.
  • Year-on-year comparisons are more dramatic at the regional level, with some regions seeing declines of 20% or more from Thanksgiving week 2019.
  • The Rockies saw the smallest slide (5.6%), but that is substantial enough to dramatically impact supply and demand balances as winter approaches. 
  • California saw a year-on-year loss of 17.3%, and that gap is likely to grow due to strict new stay-at-home mandates. For decades, California led all states in gasoline consumption, but that distinction has been surpassed by Texas, which finds smaller year-on-year volume declines of 15.8%. 
  • New Jersey is the hardest hit state, with gasoline volumes plunging by nearly 30% from 2019. 
  • The Midwest was down 23.3% compared with last year, led by Illinois, which saw a year-on-year deficit of 26%. 
  • Only two states—Wyoming and Utah—are outliers with gasoline consumption rising year-on-year by 0.2% and 1.1%, respectively.

The data speak to a major problem for the petroleum industry and oil prices as it recovers from unprecedented demand declines for most of 2020.

“A persistent rebound in global oil markets requires profitability in transportation products,” said Fred Rozell, president, OPIS by IHS Markit. “But that won’t happen until demand recovers.”

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