April 15, 2008 in Business

U.S. forecast sees $3.60 summer gas peak

John Wilen Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The price board at a Shell gas station is shown in San Francisco on Monday. At the pump, the national average price of a gallon of gas edged lower overnight to $3.373 a gallon, 0.1 cent shy of a new record set Sunday, according to a survey of stations by AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK – Gas prices fluctuated over the weekend but appear poised to resume their seemingly relentless trek toward a record high nationally of $3.50 a gallon. Forecasts call for gas to peak as high as $3.65 within a month.

Those are the national figures. Spokane already has broken that threshold, with an average price Monday of $3.50 a gallon. The average price in Coeur d’Alene was $3.36 a gallon, according to AAA. A month ago, those prices were $3.38 and $3.22 a gallon, respectively.

Oil prices, meanwhile, rose to a record settlement and are within striking distance of last week’s trading record of $112.21 a barrel as the dollar fell and crude supplies were disrupted in the U.S. and overseas.

The Energy Department recently predicted gas prices could average as much as $3.60 a month this summer, and said the daily national average could rise as high as $4 a times. Prices are already more than $4 in some parts of the country.

But a growing number of analysts don’t believe the national average will rise that high unless something unanticipated occurs.

“I don’t think so, unless there is some sort of outage or refinery event,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service.

Indeed, barring such an event, prices could fall back to $3 a gallon, or lower, by late summer, said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, an energy consultancy in Galena, Ill.

“Take your vacation late this year,” said Ritterbusch, who believes prices will dip to those lows in July or August.

Still, unexpected refinery outages have forced pump price spikes in the past. Last spring, a string of unanticipated refinery outages caused gas prices to peak at record levels in May. Prices then mostly fell until late in the year, when they began to track crude oil higher.

Prices normally rise in the spring as suppliers stock up in advance of peak summer driving season and as refiners switch over from making winter grade gasoline to the more expensive, but less polluting, summer version of the fuel. As they perform this switch, refiners try to sell off all of their winter grade fuel, driving overall supplies down.

This year, refiners are also facing short supplies of alkylate, a key ingredient in summer grade fuel.

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