The U.S. average price of self-serve regular gasoline Monday was $3.391… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)
Gasoline prices rose in most of the U.S. during the last week and are higher than they were a year earlier, according to a federal survey released Tuesday.
But the fuel bite out of the collective American wallet may not be any worse than it was a year earlier because consumption is down.
The U.S. average price of self-serve regular gasoline Monday was $3.391 a gallon, up nearly a penny from a week earlier and 28.7 cents higher than a year earlier, the Energy Department said in a report delayed a day by the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The average is based on a weekly survey of service stations.
In California, the average slipped seven-tenths of a cent to $3.70 a gallon, which was 35.1 cents higher than a year earlier, the Energy Department said.
Even though fuel costs are up, the total U.S. fuel bill is little changed because of falling consumption, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. On the King holiday last year, Americans spent about $1.15 billion on motor fuel, about the same amount that they spent Monday, Kloza said.
The reason is that U.S. drivers are burning about 36 million fewer gallons of gasoline a day than they did at this time last year, when they were using about 370 million gallons, according to Kloza's company. This week's daily consumption mark is 57 million gallons a day less than the pre-recession peak of 391 million gallons a day set in January 2008.
U.S. gasoline consumption is on pace to drop to its "lowest levels since Elian Gonzalez was at the top of the news, Time Warner was heralding the synergies of its AOL purchase, and 'American Beauty' was the Golden Globe winner," Kloza said. "The year was 2000."
In 2000, there were 30 million fewer people living in the U.S. and 31 million fewer cars and light trucks on the road, he said.
High gasoline price hangovers from 2011 may be one of the biggest reasons that Americans are burning less gasoline by driving less, consolidating trips, moving closer to where they work and buying vehicles with better fuel economy, according to the Energy Department, which noted that last year was the first time that national averages for gasoline and diesel never fell below $3 a gallon.