Drivers, if you didn’t fill up at the start of the week, you may regret it today.
And the crushing news is that the high price you’ll pay now likely will be eclipsed in the spring – when prices at the pump will approach $4 a gallon in Texas, experts say.
The average gas price in Houston jumped 12 cents over the last week to $3.38 a gallon Wednesday for regular unleaded. Motorists locally now are paying 46 cents a gallon more for gasoline than they were a year ago, according to AAA.
A whole rash of reasons can be blamed for the hit to your pocketbook. They range from high crude oil prices to the closing of refineries.
Then there’s the optimism that the economy is strengthening, which would boost demand. Normally, that’s good news, but not at the pump. Meanwhile, unrest in the Middle East continues to rattle the market.
“We are at a record price for crude for this time of the year and record for gas in most parts of the country,” said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business.
In the spring, “prices in the high $3 range for Texas are quite probable at this point,” he said.
But Tuesday’s price bump “is a small move compared to what comes in March and April,” warned Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.
Kloza expects prices to go up in the spring because of high crude prices, the refinery closures and a “slight recovery in demand” during March, April and May.
Some doomsayers predicting that gas nationally will spike to $4.60 a gallon or higher are just attention seekers, he said. Still he says he’s “in the camp that looks for $4 a gallon to be exceeded.”
The market got the jitters earlier this week over the threat of a strike that could close some refineries. Also, during the fall and winter, two refineries on the East Coast were shuttered, along with a major plant in the Virgin Islands and some smaller ones in Europe. That prompted fears that gasoline supplies could be hampered.
And traders and speculators, too, have jumped on the bandwagon and bid up gasoline futures.
On top of that, the raw material for gasoline – crude oil – is up 3 percent over the last month. Gasoline prices have been guided by the price of benchmark Brent crude. On Tuesday, Brent traded for almost $111 a barrel. In July 2008, it traded at a historic high of $145.91.
“If you look at a graph, as Brent kept going up, gasoline followed. That’s the driver,” said Brian Youngberg, senior energy analyst at brokerage Edward Jones in St. Louis.