U.S. drivers are paying more at the pump this month after enjoying some of the lowest gasoline prices this decade. The cost of a gallon of gas is likely to keep inching up through the spring due to rising crude oil prices and seasonal slowdowns at U.S. refineries, fuel experts say.
Regular gasoline in the U.S. cost $2.52 a gallon on average Monday, up by 7.6 cents from last week’s average and 17.5 cents from the previous month, according to GasBuddy.com.
Patrick DeHann, a senior petroleum analyst for the fuel research firm, said the trend is normal for February. Refineries in Texas, California and other states reduce production volumes in the winter to do regularly scheduled maintenance work ahead of the summer driving season, he said.
“With that comes a slowdown in gasoline production, which weighs on prices by putting upward pressure on what motorists pay at the pump,” he said. Refineries typically wrap up their maintenance work around May, at which point gas prices usually decline ahead of Memorial Day weekend, DeHann noted.
A slight recovery in crude oil prices in recent weeks is also pushing gasoline costs higher.
Brent crude, a global benchmark, climbed to $62.57 a barrel Monday, its highest level since Dec. 22. Prices are up by 36 percent from a nearly six-year low of $45.19 a barrel on Jan. 13, Bloomberg News reported.
U.S. benchmark crude, called West Texas Intermediate, was trading at $52.87 a barrel Monday, a 22 percent gain from its January low. WTI prices plunged below $44 a barrel last month for the first time since April 2009.
Crude prices declined so precipitously this winter due to a surge in supplies coupled with tepid global demand. But signs are emerging that oil production will slow down this year, and traders are raising prices in anticipation. Coming off the heels of the U.S. shale oil boom, which contributed to the supply glut, companies drilled 28 percent fewer wells in January in the lower 48 states than they did last June, according to an analysis last week. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporting country, is hinting that it might sell its crude at higher prices to boost government revenues, DeHann said.
Yet even as gas prices inch up at pumps across America, drivers shouldn’t expect to shell out the kind of money they did last year, he noted. In mid-February 2014, fuel cost about $3.36 on average, or 84 cents more than today’s prices, according to GasBuddy data.
“At least in the next several months, through June or July, gas prices will lag behind last year’s numbers by as much as 80 cents to $1 a gallon,” DeHann said. “There will still be a significant price advantage versus last year.”