Mar 8, 2022 - Podcasts

Prices spike at the pump

Gas prices are soaring across the country. A year ago, AAA says the national average was $2.77. Yesterday it was $4.07. How much higher could it go?

  • Plus, Black students in Ukraine face rejection at the border.
  • And, a Twitter reality check.

Guests: Axios' Ben Geman, Fadel Allassan and Erica Pandey

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, March 8th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: Black students in Ukraine face rejection at the border. Plus: a Twitter reality check.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: prices spike at the pump.

Gas prices are soaring across the country. A year ago, AAA says the national average was 2.77 – YESTERDAY though it was 4.07.

And you’ve been telling us what it looks like in where you live. Across 24 states and the District of Columbia, Axios Today listeners texted me yesterday about how gas prices are high and climbing by the day, or even the hour. Tony in Northampton Mass who went to the gym at 7 am and they said a nearby gas station was $ 4.15 a gallon…on the way home the same station was up to 4.20…and then it was up to $4.25 by lunchtime.

Some of you told us you’re adjusting…by using one car in your family instead of two, or not driving at all…And we’re all wondering: how much higher could this go? Axios’s Ben Geman is joining us from an energy conference in Houston. Hey Ben!

BEN GEMAN: Thanks for having me back on.

NIALA: Ben first, I was surprised how many listeners said they were actually willing to pay more if it meant supporting democracy and Ukraine, but others also asked why prices are going up so much, given that we get so little oil in the U.S. from Russia?

BEN: On the first part of it, I think it shows how the U.S. public is really responding to these tragic and awful events that we are seeing unfold in Europe and the willingness to sort of do what's necessary as people are trying to address this. Now, in terms of why prices are shooting up so much, it's a really tight global oil market. And that was the case even before this crisis. And global is kind of the operative word here, right? So even though our imports from Russia are not gigantic, this is also coming at a time of more widespread interruption in Russian supplies.

And so essentially what I'm saying is that when the oil market is affected in one place, it's really kind of affected everywhere. And look, global energy demand has been roared back from the depths of the pandemic. So you're coming, this is all happening at a time in which global oil and natural gas supplies have already been really tight. And so any types of interruption and changes can really send things very sharply upward, and that's what we're seeing. And then even on top of that, still, the market also responds to perception of risk, right? You know, traders respond to geopolitical risk, and right now, geopolitical risk and conflict is extraordinarily high and dangerous.

NIALA: How much higher do we think prices could go here? Is there a ceiling for this?

BEN: You know, that's hard to say. I mean, I think we're seeing only a limited appetite among European countries to take very strong action against Russian oil. And so that's why, you know, when Secretary of State Anthony Blinken over the weekend suggested that the U.S. was looking at new limits on Russian oil alongside its allies, prices zoomed way up. You had the global benchmark, Brent crude, you know, get close to $140 a barrel. But then as we started to hear some more notes of caution on that from Europe prices came back down. Now look, they're still extremely high, they're at their highest level in many years, but I think the appetite for European action and the appetite for U.S. action to put new limits on Russian oil is going to kind of dictate where this goes from here.

NIALA: Is there anything the U.S. government can do to change this situation?

BEN: They are, you know, honestly, they are very limited. While federal energy policy certainly does affect prices on some level over the medium to long term, there's very little that the administration could do in the short term that would have a very large effect on prices here.

NIALA: Axios’ Ben Geman. Thank you, Ben.

BEN: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: And if you're not connected with me via text on the Community platform, and you want to join us so you can answer questions like the one I sent yesterday about gas prices. You can text me a hello at 202-918-4893.

In 15 seconds: Black students turned away trying to flee Ukraine are turned away.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. More than one and a half million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion. It's hard for anyone trying to leave the country right now, but it's been even more difficult for foreign students if they're black or brown. Axios’ Fadel Allassan has new reporting on the black students who are trying to get out of the country and how they've been blocked from doing so. Hey Fadel.


NIALA: Fadel first can you tell us, what have witnesses on the ground told you about how people are being prevented from leaving Ukraine?

FADEL: So ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, there has been this hashtag on Twitter, #AfricansInUkraine, of people documenting discrimination that they face as they try to flee the country. I talked to a student from Nigeria named Alexander Somto Orah, who was studying in Kiev when the invasion started.

And he made the journey from Kiev to Poland. He described to me discrimination he saw at a train station in Kiev authorities said that they were only letting women and children in. And a group of African people, and black people weren't being led in, despite the fact that some of them were women and some of them had children with them. At the border in Poland, people were segregated into two groups, one containing white people, one containing nonwhite people. Authorities let the white people pass in large numbers and process them quickly. Meanwhile, the group of nonwhite people was just left, waiting there for hours.

NIALA: So Fadel, we were seeing quite a few of these reports over the past week or so. What has the Ukrainian government said in response?

FADEL: So the Ukrainian government, along with the Polish government has flatly denied that there has been any racism. And both of those governments have partly attributed these reports to a Russian disinformation effort. They’ve since put out several statements and this is both governments saying that they accept everyone in their country and the Ukrainians have put out a statement saying that Ukrainian authorities don’t discriminate.

NIALA: So, do we know what the situation is now on the ground?

FADEL: It's unclear. But we know people who were attacked at a border town in Poland by white nationalists. So there is kind of concern for whether these countries have the social capacity and the sensitivity to accept not only refugees, but refugees of color. People, could make the point that this isn't the most important issue that people should be dealing with right now, considering that it's in the context of a war, but I think a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, Kimberley St. Julian Vernon put it well that, you know, we're extending all this charity and all this goodwill and all this compassion to refugees who are leaving Ukraine. We ought to ensure that black people and people of color are also a part of that in equal measure.

NIALA: Axios’ Fadel Allassan. Thanks, Fadel.

FADEL: Thank you.

NIALA: If you, like me, are on Twitter, you probably don’t think of it as the friendliest place... But, we’ve got data to remind us what a small slice of our world it really is. Axios’ Erica Pandey has a reality check for us…right Erica?

ERICA PANDEY: That's right, Niala. I mean, if you were to spend your time on Twitter, which a lot of us journalists do, you would think the world is a pretty nasty place. I mean, there's a lot of fighting on Twitter. There's a lot of toxicity, there's little room for nuance and mutual understanding and discussions and debates. But Pew had a study on social media use in the U.S. in 2021, and only 23% of US adults said they ever used Twitter. And this gives us hope because it tells us that a lot of Americans are, you know, are normal, are friendly, would help shovel your car out of a snow storm. And not everybody is kind of engaging in this, this nutty fighting that we see either online or on cable news. And this story is part of our debut edition of Axios Finish Line, where we're going to dig into more stories just like this one. A lot of us get caught up in the evening, you know, doom scrolling on our phones. And, this new project, from me and Axios co-founders Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, is meant to be an antidote to that, with hopeful, healthy, helpful news. And just give you a different lens by which to look at all the information that we're constantly all getting flooded with.

NIALA: Erica Pandey is an Axios business reporter and co-author of the new Axios Finish Line newsletter.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! Happy international women’s day – a quick shoutout to the women behind the scenes who produce this podcast every day: Julia, Alexandra, Nuria, Sabeena, and Lydia.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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