NEWS

Prices at the Pump May Level Off Soon

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Just when it looked like crude oil prices would continue ticking upward and push gasoline prices higher, the oil market hit a speed bump, increasing chances that motorists might soon pay less at the pump.

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U.S. crude oil prices fell Thursday morning and were trading below $50 on news from the Energy Information Administration that domestic oil and gasoline stockpiles were well above typical levels for this time of year. If that glut continues, the steady increases at the pump that motorists have experienced in recent weeks could come to a temporary halt.

The AAA Daily Fuel Gauge said Thursday the national average for regular unleaded gasoline has increased 25 days in a row, climbing 23 cents to $2.27 a gallon. Diesel fuel has increased 6 cents over the past two weeks to a national average of $2.85.

Oil also had been on a steady rise after hitting a 52-week low of $43.58 on Jan. 29. Oil accounts for more than half the price of gasoline, but other factors also affect how much consumers pay.

“Gas prices have increased sharply due to more expensive crude oil costs and the start of refinery maintenance season. Gas prices typically increase this time of year as refineries conduct maintenance, which can limit fuel production,” AAA said in a press release.

Countering those factors, AAA said, is that “severe cold weather, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest may limit driving and gasoline demand in the near term,” helping hold down pump prices.

Down the road, when demand for gas picks up in the spring and refineries switch to more-expensive summer gas blends, prices should increase.

But AAA offered these reassuring words: “Barring any major disruptions in supply, AAA anticipates drivers will continue to pay below $3 per gallon throughout 2015.” Far fewer motorists, though, are paying less than $2 for regular gas than just a few weeks ago, when the average was less than $2 in 25 states. Only three states still remain below that mark: Montana, at $1.99; Idaho at $1.95; and Utah at $1.95.

Hawaii remained the only state where regular unleaded averaged more than $3, holding steady the past week at $3.03. California was next highest at $2.83, followed by Alaska at $2.61. California’s average has surged 27 cents in the past two weeks, in part because of refinery issues.

Despite the recent increases, motorists on average are still paying $1.10 less per gallon for regular unleaded and $1.12 less for diesel fuel compared to a year ago. Higher pump prices were widespread the past week, but prices fell in a handful of states, including by 6 cents in Michigan to $2.26, 9 cents in Indiana to $2.24 and 9 cents in Ohio to $2.23.

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