Gasoline prices stall for now, rise to come

Gasoline prices are holding steady just under $4, but analysts warn Houston drivers could see a sudden rise at the pump as refineries switch to summer-blend gasoline.

Houston drivers are paying on average $3.89, or 3 cents higher than a week ago, but Tom Kloza, the chief analyst for Oil Price Information Services, said higher prices are on their way.

“The big increases are coming to the Clean Air Markets, such as Houston and Dallas,” Kloza said.

Houston drivers could see up to a 25-cent rise as the gas stations begin to sell the smog-reducing summer blend of gasoline, Kloza said. Last year, gasoline prices rose between 8 cents to 10 cents after stations switched to the summer-blend gasoline.

Gasoline prices have been steadily rising since the New Year, but in the last week, prices have stalled at the pump. Texas drivers are paying on average $3.84, a rise of 2 cents in the past week. Nationally, drivers are paying $3.94, a penny rise in the past week.

Patrick DeHaan, a retail price expert with GasBuddy.com, told the Associated Press that drivers shouldn’t expect the stable prices to continue.

“Current stable prices will be temporary,” he told the AP.

DeHaan said drivers will see prices begin to rise again as more refineries begin to make the switch to the more expensive summer-blend gasoline. DeHaan said a handful of stations in the Great Lakes area have already made the switch.

That switch caused Chicago recent hit an all-time high of $4.68 on March 27, Kloza said.

Areas in the northeast could see a similar rise because of supply concerns after three northeast refineries closed earlier this year.

However, the gasoline outlook isn’t all gloomy.

Analysts say gasoline prices are likely to peak in late April or early May, meaning drivers should see some relief from the rising prices.

“Prices are going to peak sooner than I thought earlier this year,” DeHaan said. “But drivers are still going to be paying well over $3 for most of the year.”

Kloza said he expects gasoline prices to top $4.05 nationally before leveling off through the summer months. Drivers are likely to see gasoline prices slowly drop over the final months of 2012, he added.