Fuel prices to rise as spring approaches

HOUSTON — AAA offered good news and bad news for motorists in a new fuel price forecast released Thursday. The bad: Drivers likely will start paying more for gasoline soon, as refiners prepare for annual spring maintenance. The good: Gas prices probably will be slightly lower this year than they were in 2013.

Every year, gas prices tend to rise in the spring, when refiners slow down and reduce output as they perform maintenance and convert their facilities to produce to a different blend of gasoline used in the summer.

AAA forecasts that the national average price of gasoline will reach $3.55 to $3.75 per gallon this spring when refiners again go through that process. Today, unleaded fuel averages $3.27 per gallon nationally.

“Driving to the gas station could be a lot more frustrating as prices increase this spring,” AAA’s president and CEO Bob Darbelnet said in a statement.

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Similar price trends occur annually. Last year, for example, the national average price of gasoline increased 49 cents per gallon over the 41 days leading up to Feb. 27, when the price peaked at $3.79 per gallon.

Gas prices typically start to fall again as that maintenance winds down. AAA says the national average price of fuel will be back down to $3.30 to $3.40 per gallon by June.

Nationally, gas prices averaged $3.49 per gallon in 2013. In 2014, the average price will be about 5 cents lower, AAA projected.

Gas prices in Houston — and elsewhere in the Gulf Coast — tend to be lower due to fewer taxes and proximity to refiners. In Texas, for example, the average price per gallon was $3.075 on Thursday, about 6 percent lower than the national average.

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Pain at the pump? Smile. At least you don’t live in Norway.