- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005


Gasoline prices probably will jump an additional 15 cents this spring and remain well above $2 per gallon through the heavy driving season, the Energy Information Administration said yesterday.

There also is little relief in sight for crude oil prices, which are pushing gasoline costs higher. Crude prices probably will remain “near the high to mid-$40” per barrel range well into 2006, said the agency, a division of the Energy Department.

Regular gasoline averaged $2 per gallon last week, 26 cents higher than a year ago, and crude prices have been above $50 per barrel. Crude prices briefly surpassed $55 per barrel yesterday before settling at $54.59 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

While the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects prices to ease from the currently high levels, it noted that oil prices are highly sensitive to market pressures and that “imbalances, real or perceived… could cause light crude oil prices to increase well above $50 per barrel, as has recently occurred.”

Some analysts have suggested crude could surpass $60 per barrel in the coming weeks and stay high for some time because of growing global demand and the limited ability of producers to easily expand production.

The report said motorists are likely to see increasing pump prices this year, with regular gasoline expected to average about $2.10 per gallon nationwide during the heavy driving season from April through September. That is 20 percent higher than last year.

Many consumers will face higher gasoline costs even as they are paying off winter heating bills. A relatively mild winter has tempered demand for heating oil, natural gas and propane.

But the EIA said the high cost of fuel has forced average heating bills 10 percent (for natural gas) to 29 percent (for heating oil) higher than last winter. Propane users have seen a 17 percent jump in heating costs.

The EIA report said tight supply of oil worldwide is putting upward pressure on energy prices, although members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries increased production by 630,000 barrels per day in February.

OPEC representatives are scheduled to meet next Wednesdayto discuss future production levels. The EIA said its report “assumes OPEC will not cut production … given high oil prices and tight supply.”

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