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Record seasonal-gas-price rise has some rethinking predictions

March 05, 2012|By Ronald D. White
  • A man walks past a Washington service station on the cusp of $5-a-gallon gasoline for regular.
A man walks past a Washington service station on the cusp of $5-a-gallon… (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty…)

Retail gasoline prices have risen to such record high levels for the month of March that some experts are rethinking their predictions on how high fuel prices could go in 2012.

With the national average already reaching GasBuddy.com's prediction for mid-May of $3.75 a gallon to $4.15 a gallon nationally, senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said, "The rise in price is so unbelievable that we may have to revise upward our previous gasoline forecast."

It could be a lot worse. The poor soul who forgot to fuel up before reaching the Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort in Death Valley today will see a price of $5.87 for a gallon of regular, according to Mapquest's fuel price service, but some experts are still saying that state and national averages will fall far short of $5 a gallon.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey said those predicting $5-a-gallon gasoline are wrong. "You may indeed have to pay $5 if you buy your summer gasoline on a tropical island, Martha's Vineyard, or one of the tonier suburbs of New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. But the chances of nationwide gasoline averages approaching $5 are about as good as having the Spice Girls perform a tribute to Demi Moore."

Still, it's very ugly out there.

Over the last week, California's second-highest-in-the-nation average for a gallon of regular gasoline climbed another 5.6 cents to $4.343, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. That's a rather scary 45.4 cents higher than the state's old record for March 5, set last year.

Nationally, the average for a gallon of regular gasoline was up another 6.9 cents since last week, to $3.767. That was 26.7 cents a gallon higher than the old record for March 5, also set last year.

The three states that typically lead the nation in gasoline prices are all above $4 a gallon, the AAA said. Hawaii is averaging $4.379 a gallon, and Alaska is at $4.171. Outside of those states, the West Coast, Midwest and Northeast states are feeling the most pain.

Closing in on $4-a-gallon gasoline were: Connecticut ($3.994), New York ($3.989), Oregon ($3.954), Illinois ($3.947), Washington ($3.937), and Michigan ($3.935), the AAA said. The AAA Fuel Gauge Report uses credit card receipts collected daily by the Oil Price Information Service and by Wright Express at more than 100,000 locations in the U.S. where fuel is sold.

Major urban areas, particularly in California, led the way. Hilo, Hawaii, was at $4.570 a gallon, followed by San Francisco ($4.391); Los Angeles-Long Beach ($4.375); San Jose ($4.331);
Bridgeport, Conn. ($4.067); New York City ($4.056); Seattle ($4.035) and Chicago ($4.033).

The reasons: high oil prices ($106.81 a barrel in commodities trading in New York so far), refinery closures, refinery maintenance stoppages, the switch from cheaper winter to more expensive summer blends of gasoline, stock market speculators, and refiners that are devoting more oil to fuel distillates such as diesel for export overseas.

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