Average gas prices across the country could cross the $4 mark this spring but should not stay there for long, according to the newest Department of Energy forecasts. The monthly national average for retail gasoline should peak at $3.48 in May and June, according to the Energy Information Administration’s short-term outlook. Averages for the Gulf Coast region, which includes Lubbock, top off at a much lower $3.35 in the same months, according to the report.
That would depend on a lot of local and national factors hitting just right, Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Institute for Energy at Southern Methodist University, told The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
"Honestly, I think that’s a little optimistic," Bullock said.
Crude prices have set near-daily trading records as supply concerns and inflation fears have driven speculation in the commodity. Trading pushed gasoline prices Tuesday to match the record national average of $3.23 per gallon set in May, when refinery outages and strong demand pushed prices higher. Average gasoline prices still have roughly 25 cents to go before they have caught up with crude prices, Bullock said.
Refinery issues tend to happen this time of year as facilities return from maintenance and the basic economic problems helping push crude prices higher have yet to resolve, the report said. That suggested gasoline prices that could linger near $4 a gallon longer than the forecasts suggest, Bullock said.
"I still see, at least at this point in time, more things pushing it up than I see possible things pushing it down," Bullock said. "For it to drop back down relatively quickly, it would take a lot of things to go exactly right."
Charles Bolton, co-owner of Bolton Oil Inc., hoped the energy department forecasts proved accurate. Convenience stores tend to bear the brunt of complaints when gas prices jump, though the businesses fare worse under high pump prices. Increases in gasoline prices had slowed, making Bolton optimistic the prices would not climb too high this spring, he said.
"I would hope that the trend is not to get real high," Bolton said.
The same forecasts did not show monthly averages beginning to decline in July and did not show them returning to this year’s records in 2009. Projected national averages peak at $3.32 in May next year, as increased oil production begins to outpace consumption.