CARS.COM — Gas prices remained steady in most parts of the country the past week, but that reprieve may only be temporary because analysts expect pump prices to climb during the spring. The national average for regular gas on Thursday was unchanged from a week ago at $2.28 a gallon, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Premium gas also was unchanged at $2.80, and diesel fuel was up a penny to $2.52.
Analysts expect prices to rise because refineries will have to shut down in the coming weeks to undergo routine seasonal maintenance, pinching the supply of gas. In many areas, by May, they also will have to switch to summer gasoline blends that are more expensive to produce.
In recent weeks most areas have seen little change in pump prices, though in the Great Lakes area, which is prone to greater price gyrations, motorists have had to dig deeper to fill their tanks. Average prices for regular rose by 4 cents the past week in Indiana, 5 cents in Michigan and 7 cents in Ohio. Over the past two weeks, prices jumped 11 cents in Indiana and 15 cents in Michigan and Ohio.
In addition to seasonal maintenance and the switch to summer blends, analysts are closely monitoring how a reduction in oil output by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will affect what consumers pay at the pump.
U.S. oil prices rose Wednesday and Thursday, and were trading at nearly $55 a barrel, up about $2 from a week ago. GasBuddy.com analyst Dan McTeague said in a blog post that the rally may not last “due in large part to lingering doubts over OPEC’s inability to dent the vast global oversupply of crude and reports that several nations continue to increase output, including Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Iran.”
Moreover, OPEC’s decision to reduce oil production has encouraged a marked increase in U.S. and Canadian oil drilling, and the oil from those rigs is offsetting at least some of OPEC’s cuts. As a result, average prices are down 3 cents from a month ago for regular and 2 cents for premium gas; diesel is unchanged from a month ago. AAA cautioned that the downward trend is unlikely to continue.
“At this time U.S. oil production is up and so are crude oil inventories so retail prices have remained fairly steady. This could all change if OPEC maintains its high level of compliance and refinery maintenance season eats into U.S. supply as driving demand increases,” AAA said in a release.
The lowest gas prices continued to be found in Southern states. South Carolina had the lowest statewide average at $2.03 a gallon, followed by Alabama and Tennessee at $2.06. Pump prices were highest in states on the Pacific Ocean, topped by Hawaii at $3.11. Regular averaged $2.90 in California and $2.74 in Alaska and Washington, according to AAA.
A year ago, gas prices were bottoming out after several months of steady decline. The national average for regular was $1.70 a gallon on Feb. 23, 2016, and for premium it was $2.21. Four years ago, though, GasBuddy said the average for regular was $3.78 — the highest ever on that date.