Americans used less gas this Thanksgiving week than any since 1997

Posted December 7, 2020 12:49 p.m. EST

— Millions of coronavirus-wary Americans avoided driving during the week of Thanksgiving as Covid-19 cases surged across the country. That sent holiday week gasoline sales plunging to a 23-year low.

Gas sales during Thanksgiving week 2020 fell 19.3% from the previous year and even fell dramatically from the week prior to Thanksgiving, according to a recent IHS Markit Oil Price Information Service survey, which monitors weekly consumption at nearly 25,000 gas stations.

The OPIS report shows Americans purchased 185 million less gallons of gas the week of Thanksgiving than they did the week prior. 2020 marked the lowest Thanksgiving week for gas consumption since 1997, according to the data company.

The decline in gasoline sales shows Covid-19 is sharply reducing Americans' holiday travel choices and the worst is likely to come, said IHS Markit executive director Tom Kloza.

"We're heading toward a 90-day period where gasoline demand gets further crimped by winter weather and post-holiday cocooning," Kloza said in a written statement. "By January, we may regularly see demand numbers not witnessed since the last century."

The rate of gas sales decline varied greatly by US region, according to OPIS. The greatest drop was in New Jersey, with sales down nearly 30% from the same week in 2019. The Rocky Mountain states' 5.6% decline was the smallest by region, but OPIS said the rate was sizable enough to dramatically affect gas supply and demand balances as winter approaches.

Sales in California were down 17.3% when compared to the same week in 2019. OPIS researchers said they expect that gap to grow because of the state's latest stringent stay-at-home guidelines.

Wyoming and Utah were the only states where gas consumption increased this year when compared to last year. Wyoming's gas sales rose by 0.2%. Utah saw a gas consumption increase of 1.1%.

The holiday season decline in gas consumption poses a major problem for the oil and gas industry, which has been plagued with demand declines for most of the year. IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin said the industry probably won't rebound until the nation sees a break from the pandemic's second wave.

"A persistent rebound in global oil markets requires profitability in transportation products, but that won't happen until demand recovers," OPIS president Fred Rozell added in a written statement.

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