Gas price peak: Near? Or nowhere near?

Sign of the times in Marion, Ind., on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (Jeff Morehead / Chronicle-Tribune)
Sign of the times in Marion, Ind., on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (Jeff Morehead / Chronicle-Tribune) (Jeff Morehead / Chronicle-Tribune)
Posted: February 21, 2013

Gasoline prices have risen dramatically, and are likely to approach $4 a gallon over the next couple of months.

On that much, most experts agree.

But as to where they'll peak there's no consensus.

Some experts predict doom for the all-time record of $4.11 for a gallon of regular, set in July 2008.

One expert, though, thinks we might be within a nickel of the top.

"The 44-cent month-over-month increase is the most dramatic since June 2009," AAA's Michael Green wrote Monday, referring to the average U.S. price of a gallon of regular.

It was up to $3.77 today. In Pennsylvania it's a couple of pennies more; in New Jersey about 14 cents less.

Premium's up to $4.06 a gallon nationally.

The U.S. hike was 15 cents in just a week, putting price levels 19 cents above a year ago, according to AAA.

Not only has the run-up been fast, it began sooner than in the previous two winters.

In 2011 and 2012, prices peaked in mid-spring just shy of $4 a gallon.

Given the headstart, 2013 might not be so lucky.

The average price per gallon has already hit $4 in New York State, and $4.18 in California.

"I do think that at some point this summer we'll see gasoline hit a new record for national average," says analyst Carl Larry, president of Oil Outlooks and Opinions. "I can see under normal circumstances it hit $4.20, but like I said, the upside could get a lot higher if things get ugly in oil."

Low demand, due to the country's economic woes, led to refineries closing, some for repairs, some permanently, especially on the East Coast, he explained. As demand rises, production will have trouble keeping up.

"I think it's really a matter of our own doing," he said.

It could be a case of "gas petro-noia," analyst Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service told USA Today. As long as no crisis develops overseas, he expects to see prices peak below $4 a gallon by early April.

"Crude oil is now about $96 a barrel. It was at $145 when gasoline prices hit the $4.11 record," he said.

More optimistic is Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston. He sees refinery capacity increasing soon enough that prices might rise only to about $3.82 a gallon, before falling.

"I think the market has gotten ahead of itself here," he said.

No record?

"Nah. Nope. In fact, I don't think we're going to get to $4 this year," he said.

"While the peak price this spring may approach the 2011 and 2012 highs, AAA continues to expect the high to be lower than both years," according to Green.


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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