Gas prices have continued to edge lower nationally, falling a little more than a penny the past week, but the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge warns that prices could begin to climb again in February.
"This increase is likely to be the result of refineries beginning to reduce production to conduct seasonal maintenance, which can limit gasoline supplies and cause market uncertainty," AAA said in its weekly update on pump prices.
That could end this month's slow decline. Prices fell from a national average of $3.33 on Jan. 3 for a gallon of regular unleaded to $3.27 on Thursday. The national average is 5 cents lower than a month ago and 12 cents less than on Jan. 30, 2013.
Though the national average has been receding at a glacial pace, pump prices have fluctuated by larger amounts in several states. Prices have fallen by double digits this month, for example, in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. In the last week alone, they fell by 7 cents in Indiana and Michigan and 10 cents in Ohio, where the average was $3.21 Thursday.
Prices increased by 5 cents to $3.04 in Missouri; a week ago it was the only state where the average was less than $3.00. This week, Montana saw the nation's lowest average price for regular unleaded at $3.02, unchanged from a week ago. Arkansas had the third lowest, $3.07, followed by South Carolina, $3.08.
Hawaii had this week's highest average of $4.01 a gallon, followed by Alaska at $3.65. New York and Connecticut had the highest average among mainland states, $3.64, and California's average price was $3.58. Pump prices remained high in other Northeastern states, averaging $3.48 or more in Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Although crude oil prices have remained relatively flat at less than $100 per barrel, local and regional refinery issues and the weather have caused price fluctuations at the pumps, particularly in the middle of the country, according to AAA.
"Frigid temperatures can cause refinery issues that pressure prices higher but can also decrease demand for gasoline, as motorists limit driving, which puts downward pressure on prices," AAA said.