Gasoline prices start 2012 with 6-cent rise

Gasoline prices aren’t starting off on the right foot in 2012.

The average price of gasoline in Houston rose to $3.12, up 6 cents from the week before, according to AAA gas gauge. Texas saw prices also rise 6 cents to settle at $3.15, and the national average is also up 6 cents to $3.31.

According to the travel agency, Texarkana has the most expensive gas prices in the state at $3.18, and El Paso has the lowest at $3.01.

With those price hikes, Texans are paying 23 cents more than a year ago.

Texans paid $2.92 and Houston drivers paid $2.90 last year. At least some of the New Year increase is due to an expiring ethanol tax credit that raised gas prices by 4.5 cents. Analysts say gas prices will likely continue to rise through the spring before topping out near the $4 mark by Easter.

Edward Morse, a New York-based head of commodities research at Citigroup Global Markets Inc., said gasoline prices may rise above $4 a gallon next summer as refineries along the East Coast shutdown.

As a result, there will be drought of fuel supply.

Sunoco Inc. and ConocoPhillips have idled two plants and plan to retire a third that together could process more than 700,000 barrels  of oil a day. The retirements would drop refining capacity by 46 percent.

“We have a real supply problem ahead this summer because these refineries have not made money and they are shutting down,” Morse said. “Summer gasoline is harder to make than winter gasoline, and we could see $4 as a floor price rather than a ceiling limiting demand.”

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, monitors gasoline prices nationwide. He said prices could rise to the $3.75- to $4.50-per-gallon range, built on unseasonably high gasoline prices this year. While $4.50 per gallon is unlikely, said it is the most “apocalyptic view” of gasoline prices.

Gasoline at $4 per gallon “is a certainty for a number of states unless we have a financial collapse in Europe or a recession in the U.S.,” Kloza predicted.

The federal Energy Information Agency, which monitors gasoline prices, has a slightly brighter view of a gasoline prices in 2012, but it isn’t much better.

American drivers are projected to pay on average $3.45 for 2012, slightly down from the $3.53-per-gallon price for 2011, according to EIA. Crude oil prices are likely to stay in the $90 to $100-per-barrel range for 2012, the agency reported.

The Des Moines Register notes the high gasoline and crude oil prices come as the U.S. has jumped on the “drill, baby, drill” bandwagon.

Onshore drilling rigs have increased from 768 at the beginning of this year to more than 1,100 in early December. That represents a 24-year-drilling rig high, and as a result, crude oil production is rising and imports are dropping.

“This rising trend in production is driven by increased oil-directed drilling activity, particularly in on-shore shale formations,” the DOE said, in particular reference to the burgeoning Bakken Field in North Dakota, which has quadrupled production since 2006.

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