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Gasoline prices zip toward $3 mark

Gasoline prices on Monday continued their push toward $3 per gallon. The only question now is when?

Prices have been jumping on the back of a strong oil market where the cost for a barrel has spiked 20 percent in the past month on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Skyrocketing gasoline prices couldn’t come at a worse time for motorists, who will see heating bills jump after the worst cold spell in years.

Oil prices are now about three times what they were a year ago.

“There is a long history of tripled oil prices causing consternation among consumers,” Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover said in a report Monday. “We are not there, yet, but gasoline prices at more than $3.00 is certainly an unwelcome sign of consumer distress.”

Prices rose 1.4 cents overnight to $2.749 per gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Prices have climbed 8.4 cents a gallon in the past week and are 95.5 cents higher than a year ago.

Prices almost always tick up toward the spring as more people begin to drive and refiners switch over to cleaner burning fuels as required by law.

The AAA survey shows prices have jumped 8 cents or more in the past week in many parts of the country, including Dallas, Chicago, Miami and Columbus, Ohio.

The government will release its weekly survey of retail gasoline prices later Monday.

Motorists are paying about $50 more a month for gasoline than a year ago, and the total fuel bill for Americans now tops $1 billion per day compared with $650 million per day last year. Add in heating oil and diesel fuel, and the total fuel bill is probably $400 million to $550 million more each day than a year ago, said Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Services.

Kloza said in an e-mail that he sees prices rising by another 5 or 10 cents a gallon for now, but that drivers will not pay $3 for gas until spring.

Benchmark crude for February delivery fell 23 cents to settle at $82.52 a barrel on the Nymex Monday, despite signs of strong demand from China and a weak dollar.

China said Sunday that oil imports rose 14 percent last year to a record high in December, part of a 56 percent surge in overall imports last month.

In other Nymex trading in February contracts, heating oil fell 2.02 cents to settle at $2.1801 a gallon while gasoline fell 1.26 cents to settle at $2.1427 a gallon. Natural gas futures fell 29.5 cents to settle at $5.454 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery fell 40 cents to settle at $80.97 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Tags: gas, gasoline