- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Gasoline prices have risen as much as 15 cents per gallon in the past two weeks, as another summer of costly driving approaches.
The national average price jumped 5.8 cents last week to $1.50 a gallon, the biggest gain in 10 months, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Monday. The agency expects the price to be about that much during the spring and summer.
But the latest spike has put prices in the Washington region between 5 and 20 cents above that average, depending on location.
"A lot of people complain," said Gezahegne Daba, assistant manager at the Mobil station near the corner of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast. "We're hoping for prices to go down." A gallon of self-serve, unleaded sold for $1.63 there yesterday. Mr. Daba said the price has climbed 10 cents in the last two weeks.
In Hyattsville, Md., the situation was similar.
"[The price of gas] hurts everyone," said Shabbir Cheema, manager of the Mobil Service Center on Kenilworth Avenue, where a gallon of regular unleaded sold for $1.55 yesterday. "It hurts the customer, it hurts the business."
Service station managers said that as gas prices rise, motorists are less likely to fill their gas tanks.
"They're not filling up," he said. "It's more inconvenience for people, for us, for everyone."
Both the national and Washington metropolitan averages for a gasoline are now $1.49. The price in Maryland and Virginia is below that average, but drivers in the more populated areas of the states are paying higher prices. In Washington, the average is $1.54, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Several factors indicate that the situation could get worse.
The price of gasoline for May delivery rose 3.4 cents, or 3.4 percent, to $1.03 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest closing price since June 30. Gasoline prices have climbed 30 percent this year and are 35 percent higher than they were a year ago.
Oil prices hit their highest level in nearly a month yesterday, as U.S. gasoline and distillation stocks are expected to fall. The price of a barrel of Brent North Sea crude oil for May delivery rose more than a dollar to $26.45 from $25.28.
Also problematic, analysts said, is the shortage of gasoline supply. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut production last month for the second time since January. That decision, coupled with low reserves of gasoline in the United States, could drive up prices.
U.S. inventories are about 5 percent below the levels of a year ago, according to a report last week from the American Petroleum Institute.
"Gasoline supplies will continue to be tight into the summer, even if refiners start rebuilding stocks now," said Sarah Emerson, managing director of Energy Security Analysis Inc., a consulting firm in Wakefield, Mass.
Meanwhile, analysts expect summer vacation driving to create another 5-cent increase in prices that would kick in around Memorial Day, the beginning of the summer vacation season.
The negative effects of OPEC's production cuts have been offset somewhat by a slowing U.S. economy, which should weaken world oil prices, the EIA report said. And a slowing U.S. economy could mean fewer motorists on the road this summer. But energy analysts were not optimistic that gas prices would actually fall.
"There are very few factors that will cause gas prices to go down, but several that will make them go up," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic division of AAA. "There's not much good news for motorists here. If we're lucky, we won't hit the highs of last summer."
Last summer was brutal on motorists, as gas prices hit record highs. The EIA report said gas this year is expected to fall just short of last year's prices, when the national average peaked at $1.62 in July. But the report offered no guarantees.
"While there are reasons to believe that summer gasoline costs may not rise much above current levels, some of the same conditions that contributed to sharply rising prices last year are reappearing this spring, such as low inventories and high crude oil costs," the report said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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