Rising gas prices: Is the worst over already for 2014 driving season?

AAA predicts that the average gas price in the US has already peaked and that most motorists could see lower prices by Memorial Day. But international events, as in Ukraine, are a wild card.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Eric Henry gases up his car in Sacramento, Calif., on March 7, 2014. AAA predicts that, at $3.67 per gallon of regular gasoline, the national average price has already peaked, or is close to doing so, for this spring.

After a recent upward surge, gas prices are a little lower as of Monday than they were a week ago – and the worst of this season’s price shocks for consumers are probably over, some analysts say.

A gallon of regular gasoline cost $3.67 per gallon Monday, according to a national average calculated by the automotive group AAA in its Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That’s down from $3.69 a week ago.

But gas prices are still high enough to make consumers’ eyes widen a little as they approach a pump. Today’s price is up 10 cents a gallon from a month ago and about 36 cents higher than it was when the year began.

“Drivers can’t seem to catch a break with gas prices rising nearly every day since February,” AAA spokesman Avery Ash says in the group’s monthly gas outlook report. “[But] with any luck most of us will pay lower gas prices by the time everyone hits the road for Memorial Day.”

The group predicts that the national average price has already peaked, or is close to doing so, for this spring. If this forecast is correct, then gas prices could decline in advance of the summer driving season as the annual switchover of refineries to summer formulas for gasoline concludes.

In addition to the annual change of gas blends, prices this spring have been affected by extra refinery maintenance and by rising US exports of petroleum products.

Whether it provides any consolation or not, the fact is America has seen higher gasoline prices before. The average price is up compared with last April, but it was $3.89 per gallon in April 2012 and $3.79 per gallon in April 2011.

Summer is generally the big driving season, as families hit the road for small or large vacation trips between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

One wild card is how international events could affect oil prices, a chief factor influencing the price of gasoline. Further deterioration of the situation in Ukraine, with Russian troops now situated near the country’s eastern border, could affect global energy prices, for example.

Russia is a major producer of oil and natural gas. So far, the crisis over Ukraine’s future (and the loss of its Crimea region to Russia’s military intervention) hasn’t resulted in disruption of the natural-gas flows on which many European nations rely.

Another thing to watch: Somewhere down the road could lie higher gas taxes. The federal gasoline tax hasn’t been raised in two decades, and some advocates of highway funding say raising the tax could put America’s infrastructure needs back on a solid financial foundation.

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