Heavy Demand Continues to Pump Up Gas Prices

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CARS.COM — Gas prices moved higher again the past week, continuing a trend that started two months ago and has seen average pump prices for regular unleaded fuel increase by about 45 cents a gallon. The AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report said Thursday that the national average for regular gas rose 6 cents the past week to $2.17 a gallon.

Related: Six Things to Do When You’re About to Run Out of Gas

Premium gas was up 5 cents to $2.63 a gallon, and diesel fuel rose 4 cents to $2.16. In contrast to regular gas, the price of diesel has increased less than 20 cents the past two months. In late February, when the national average for regular was around $1.70, the average price was more than $2 in only five states. Today, just nine states average less than $2.

Pump prices typically rise this time of year because refineries have to shut down temporarily for seasonal maintenance and, in many parts of the country, switch to summer gasoline blends that generate less air pollution but are more expensive to produce. At the same time, demand for gas rises as motorists do more driving as the weather improves. Government agencies estimated that the miles driven and demand for gas hit record levels for the month of March.

“Relatively cheap gas prices are boosting driving demand, and 2016 remains poised to be a record year for both gasoline consumption and annual miles traveled,” AAA said in a statement.

Despite a recent rebound in oil prices, crude oil remains relatively cheap and in sufficient supply that AAA and others expect this summer’s pump prices to be the lowest since at least 2009.

“Gasoline demand continues to surpass 2015 year-to-date levels, and as more drivers take to the roads, refiners will work to increase gasoline production to levels that meet this higher demand,” AAA said. “Barring any unforeseen challenges in supply and refinery production, drivers are expected to pay some of the lowest prices for the summer months in more than a decade.”

Though motorists might grumble about price increases over the past two months, they only have to look back to this time last year to put things in perspective. The national average for regular is 38 cents cheaper than on April 28, 2015, premium is 31 cents cheaper and diesel is 65 cents cheaper, according to AAA.
The price of diesel remained well below last year’s level because a mild winter reduced demand for heating oil. Diesel is derived from the same heavier oil used for heating.

Texas had the lowest statewide average for regular on Thursday at $1.93, followed by Oklahoma at $1.94 and Missouri at $1.96. California continued to be the most expensive state for gas with regular averaging $2.78. Hawaii, at $2.57, was the only other state over $2.50. Nevada was third highest at $2.47.

Most states have experienced double-digit increases during April, but California, Hawaii and Nevada have gone up or down only by a couple of pennies. In contrast, average prices during April have risen 25 cents in Idaho, 26 cents in Michigan, 28 cents in Ohio, 29 cents in Indiana and 36 cents in Utah.

One reason could be that refineries serving those areas have operated well below capacity because of seasonal maintenance, and the reduction in the supply of gas has pushed pump prices higher. The Energy Information Administration said refineries in the Midwest were running at 83 percent of capacity and in the Rocky Mountain area at 75 percent, the two lowest in the country.

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