Fuel prices jump from last week; more coming

Fuel prices rose more than 5 cents a gallon in the past week, finally triggering a seasonal jump in gasoline costs that was delayed because of cheaper oil prices in much of March.

Houston-area prices for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline jumped to an average of $2.15 on Monday, up from $2.09 last week, while the national average increased to $2.33, up from $2.28 last week, according to data from GasBuddy, which tracks prices at the pump.

Fuel prices typically rise in the spring as demand increases and refiners switch to more expensive summer-grade fuels. However, crude oil prices dipped and then stayed stagnant for much of March, stalling any spike in fuel costs. That changed last week when the U.S. benchmark for oil prices surged back above $50 a barrel.

“We long anticipated seeing gasoline prices beginning to rise en masse in the spring, but uncharacteristically, it took until nearly April Fool’s Day for it to begin,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst. “There’s no fooling this time — the rally in prices does seem to be more credible as oil and gasoline markets rebound.”

DeHaan said fuel prices should continue rising at least through the end of May, but he added that the delayed increased could keep seasonal increases less severe than in previous years.

Houston fuel prices are about 27 cents per gallon higher than a year ago when the two-year oil bust was near its nadir. However, fuel costs are still 7 cents lower than in 2015 and $1.24 cheaper than 2014 when oil prices were booming above $100 a barrel.