Strong consumer demand and higher oil prices means gas prices in the United States are starting to flirt with record territory. File photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Rising crude oil prices and strong consumer demand have pushed the national average price for a gallon of gas to something of a record, retail analysis found.
Motor club AAA lists an average retail price of $2.61 for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline for Tuesday, unchanged from Monday, but almost 5 percent, or 11 cents per gallon, more than one month ago.
Jeanette Casselano, a spokeswoman for AAA, said every state in the country has an average price at the pump that's higher than this time last year. The national average for this date in 2017 was $2.27 per gallon.
"Strong demand coupled with steadily rising oil prices means filling up will continue to cost consumers more this month," she said in a statement. "In fact, the last time the national gas price average was this high, but under $3 per gallon in February, was in 2010."
AAA said consumer demand for gasoline is near 9 million barrels per day, a level it didn't reach until March last year. According to commodity pricing group S&P Global Platts, some market pressures could emerge in the weeks ahead as refineries schedule planned repairs. National stockpiles, meanwhile, should build by around 200,000 barrels, though that's nothing compared with the recent average of 920,000 barrels for the four-year period ending last year.
By market, the West Coast is the most expensive, with California taking top marks in the Lower 48 with $3.34 per gallon, though that's higher because of a new fuels tax that went into force last year. Washington state, however, is close behind at $2.99 per gallon.
Federal data show gasoline stocks in that market dropped last week, but are still above what was reported this time last year.
The Great Lakes market, meanwhile, is the most volatile, though it has cooled off in recent weeks. Inventory levels there increased to their highest level since April and refineries are rebounding from a recent slump in utilization. Michigan has the highest price in the market with a state average of $2.67 per gallon.
Patrick DeHaan, a lead petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, said the road looks rough as refineries head toward a maintenance season ahead of the transition to a summer blend of gasoline, which requires different processing steps than the winter blend. By his estimate, the natural average price for gas could spike another 50 cents per gallon by Memorial Day.
Neither analysis referenced simmering concerns about U.S. inflation. Higher U.S. wages and lower worker productivity in part led to inflationary fears that helped trigger one of the biggest selloffs in U.S. market history on Monday.
The average wage increase from last year is far lower than the 15 percent spike in gas prices year-on-year.
Federal data show the average retail price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $2.42 last year and should be about 15 cents per gallon higher for all of 2018.