Drivers in some states hit harder as average gasoline price continues march to $3

By Mark Williams, AP
Monday, March 22, 2010

Gasoline pump prices highest since October, 2008

Gasoline pump prices lingered at a 17-month high on Monday following a steady climb in recent weeks.

Nationwide average retail prices remained flat at $2.82 per gallon, the highest level since October 2008. Prices are up 18.6 cents in the past month, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.

That matched the national average in the Energy Information Administration’s weekly report, up 3 cents from a week ago and 86 cents above a year ago. California had the highest average pump price — $3.09 a gallon — and the Gulf Coast region was the lowest at $2.69 a gallon.

Many experts and the EIA think average gasoline prices will hit $3 or more this spring or summer before easing later in the year. More expensive blends to cut pollution in the warmer months and more drivers on the road should keep pump prices up.

The price rise comes as the economy continues its slow recovery from the Great Recession and deals with stubbornly high unemployment.

At $3 per gallon, a typical motorist using 50 gallons of gasoline a month will spend $150 on fuel. A year ago, prices were at $2 a gallon.

Higher gas prices hit drivers in some states harder than others. A study released this month by the Natural Resources Defenses Council found that drivers in Mississippi, Montana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina spent the largest part of their incomes on gasoline last year. Mississippi drivers on average spent 6.2 percent of their income, or $1,880, on gas — the highest percentage in the nation.

Although few forecast a spike in gasoline prices like that of July 2008, when average pump prices hit $4.11 per gallon, the NRDC said an unexpected jump that high would boost the amount Mississippi drivers spend on gasoline to 11 percent of their income, or $3,345.

At the other end of the spectrum, the report found that drivers in Connecticut spent the least on gas in 2009 — 2.5 percent of their income, or $1,391 — followed by New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Hampshire.

Pump prices could ease a couple of pennies later this week, since the monthlong rally in oil prices stalled at the end of last week and crude prices gained little ground Monday. The April contract, which expires Monday, rose 57 cents to settle at $81.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Most of the trading moved to the May contract, which added 63 cents to settle at $81.60.

In other Nymex trading in April contracts, heating oil rose 0.7 cent to settle at $2.0837 a gallon, and gasoline gained 0.06 cent to settle at $2.2562 a gallon. Natural gas slid 9 cents to settle at $4.079 per 1,000 cubic feet. Earlier, natural gas hit a 52-week low at $4.036

In London, Brent crude rose 66 cents to settle at $80.54 on the ICE futures exchange.

Associated Press writers Pablo Gorondi in Budapest and Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS settlement price for May crude contract.)

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