A survey of county prices on Monday afternoon ranged from a low of $3.65 per gallon to a high of $3.93, with an average of $3.79 for the metro Atlanta area.
“The $3.79 average is 10 cents higher than it was a week ago today and about 15 cents higher than this time a year ago,” said Jessica Brady, AAA spokeswoman. “We initially forecast that the prices would peak in April, but we could see a peak in late March since there’s been such a rapid rise in the last few weeks.”
Brady said the national average is $3.78 per gallon, up five cents from a week ago and 10 cents from last year.
Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, said gasoline prices have increased 45 cents in the last 30 days, mainly due to refinery production being down for maintenance and preparation for a changeover to summer fuel blends.
“This process is mandated by the federal government, and we’re seeing all refineries operating at a lower level,” Laskoski said. “On Dec. 19, they were operating at 91 percent capacity. Last Thursday, they were at 82 percent capacity. That really tightens the supply of gasoline.”
However, Laskoski said other factors are affecting the increases, including an increase in crude oil prices due to the weakness of the U.S. dollar.
“The International Monetary Fund reports that the U.S. dollar is at its lowest level in 15 years,” he said. “That’s important because crude oil transactions use the U.S. dollar as prime currency. So when the dollar weakens, it takes more to buy crude oil, and it costs American motorists more for the finished product.”
Laskoski said many U.S. markets will top $4 per gallon before prices come down and the forecast for Georgia’s peak is between $3.80 and $4.10 per gallon in April.
“That’s what we’re projecting, but I hope we’re wrong,” he said.
According to the Associated Press, the oil and gasoline markets began their spring surges early this year. Oil prices rose sharply in late January and gasoline prices soon followed.
For the past three weeks, crude oil prices has wavered between $95 and $98 per barrel before falling last Wednesday and Thursday.
Oil prices were pushed lower by a transcript of the latest Fed meeting that showed some policy makers expressing doubts about the central bank’s bond-buying program. If the Fed curtails or ends the program earlier than anticipated, that could affect economic growth and reduce demand for oil.
The Energy Department reported Thursday that crude supplies in the U.S. grew by 4.1 million barrels last week. That’s double what analysts expected. Ample supplies typically translate into lower prices. The two-day plunge in crude and slightly lower wholesale gasoline futures prices are expected to at least slow the rise in pump prices and perhaps push them back slightly.
However, refineries are running at their lowest levels in two years because more plants are undergoing more extensive maintenance this year.
Gasoline supplies fell by 2.9 million barrels, slightly less than analysts expected.
– Associated Press contributed to this article.