Gas Prices Rise on Summer Switch, Crude Increases

Current run-up larger, faster, earlier than recent years, says AAA

WASHINGTON -- The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline on Feb. 19 was $3.75, the highest on record for the calendar day. That price is 15 cents more expensive than one week ago, 44 cents more than one month ago and 19 cents more than the average price one year ago, AAA said in its weekly Fuel Gauge Report. The 44-cent month-over-month increase is the most dramatic since June 2009, it said.

The largest increase on record was Aug. 5 through Sept. 4, 2005, when prices jumped 75 cents, mostly because of Hurricane Katrina.

The national average has increased for 33 consecutive days, rising 46 cents or nearly 14% during this stretch. This is the longest streak since the price increased 44 cents over 44 days March 22 through May 5, 2011. This year's run-up is not only larger and faster than recent years, AAA said, but it is beginning earlier. The national average in 2011 increased by just seven cents during the same 33-day period and in 2012 it increased by 18 cents.

One reason for the earlier price increase is the trend of U.S. refineries performing seasonal maintenance and making the switchover to summer blend gasoline production earlier in the year.

In recent years, the price run-up in 2011 began in mid-February, when the national average increased for 27 consecutive days, starting an 86-cent surge to the peak of $3.98 on May 5. In 2012, the surge began at the end of January and increased 66 of 71 days to a peak of $3.94 on April 5 and 6. This year's run-up began on January 17.

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

The primary driver of currently rising retail prices has been the refinery concerns; however higher crude oil prices have also contributed to a more expensive price at the pump. Unlike recent years, when the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil has approached $110 per barrel, the current early-year increase has been driven by positive economic news rather than geopolitical unrest overseas.

Prices in every state have increased over the last week, said AAA, led by jumps in Tennessee (22 cents), Arkansas (22 cents), Alabama (21 cents), South Carolina (21 cents) and Mississippi (21 cents).

The month-over-month increases are even more dramatic and highlight the tremendous surge in prices since mid-January for many Midwest, Central and Mountain States. The highest prices in the country continue to include Hawaii, California and the Northeast; however the surge in Midwestern prices has catapulted several states in that region back onto the top-10 list.