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Gas prices climb toward $4 a gallon
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As politicians continue to point fingers of blame and experts spout their varying opinions, one thing’s for sure, Americans are feeling the pain as gasoline prices continue an upward march.

As of March 25, motorists in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area were paying an average of $3.87 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline, according to AAA Motor Club’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That’s 10 cents more than last week, 22 cents more than the same date in February and 36 cents more than it was on March 25, 2011.

The average price in Florida is $3.90, and the national average is $3.89.

In its This Week in Petroleum Report released March 21 the U.S. Energy Information Administration said price increases do not appear to be driven by record gasoline exports by U.S. companies, as some have said in recent weeks. Instead, the EIA attributes soaring costs to a number of different reasons. Some are similar to those that have affected the rise and fall of pump prices in past years.

The EIA gave an analysis of key factors driving gas prices in a March 7 report titled Déjà vu all over again, where experts said, “crude oil and motor gasoline prices rose in February 2012 in a strikingly similar way to the price increases during February 2011.”

National average prices of regular unleaded gasoline rose by 28 cents in February 2011 and in 2012; and “on the surface some of this year’s price drivers resemble those seen last year,” the EIA said.

Among the factors behind last year’s price hike was violence in Libya, which shut down most of that country’s oil production. While Libya is returning to production, other areas of the world now are experiencing political difficulties. The economic crisis in parts of Europe is a contributing factor, as is reductions in refining capabilities on the U.S. East Coast, the Caribbean and the European side of the Atlantic basin.

The EIA’s short-term outlook issued March 6 predicted a higher forecast for crude oil prices than previous predictions. Gasoline prices generally follow the rise in oil prices, the EIA said, but it is uncertain whether refinery closures will have a further impact on prices.

The EIA expects the average price for regular unleaded to peak in May at $3.96 a gallon, 32 cents higher than its previous forecast.

“There is a significant regional variation in the forecast, with average expected prices on the West Coast during the summer driving season running about 25 cents per gallon above the national average and expected prices on the Gulf coast averaging about 15 cents per gallon lower.

Something to keep in mind for people planning summer vacations.

“Recent product price increases are undoubtedly putting a burden on consumers,” the EIA said.

Current projections show that the average U.S. household will pay about $238 more to for gas in 2012 than they did in 2011.

On Sunday, March 25, the website www.tampagasprices .com reported that residents in Pinellas County were paying between $3.79 and $3.85 for a gallon of regular unleaded.
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