- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

Washington-area gasoline prices have crept up by about 15 cents per gallon in the past month, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

A gallon of regular gas in the metropolitan area cost $2.38 yesterday, compared with $2.23 a month ago. Nationally, the average price was $2.32, climbing 11 cents since mid-December.

The increase comes several weeks after gas prices reached their lowest point since Hurricane Katrina — on Dec. 6, the average price dropped to $2.14 in the Washington area and $2.15 across the country — as analysts credit the combined pressures of a seasonal increase in demand and the price of crude oil, which closed Friday at $63.92 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“After the hurricanes, gasoline prices dropped pretty dramatically. They dropped along with crude-oil prices but a lot of that spike was in gasoline itself because of the shortfall of the refineries shutting down,” said Mike Burdette, an analyst for the federal Energy Information Administration.

“As the refineries came back online and inputs made up the difference — and more importantly, we dropped into the season between summer and Christmas [which typically sees a drop in demand] — gas prices fell accordingly.”

The price of gasoline normally climbs during the winter as households rely on heating fuel for warmth, pushing up the price of crude oil. But, because of a mild winter so far, pump prices have not climbed as much this year, Mr. Burdette said.

“Right now, here we are in winter but with spring temperatures,” he said, adding that early attention to the spring gasoline market and international situations in Iran, Iraq and Nigeria are pressuring crude-oil prices.

Crude futures in London rose 77 cents to $63.03 yesterday after another attack on an oil platform in Nigeria, and Iran warned that any sanctions imposed on the country’s nuclear program could send oil prices even higher. U.S. trading was closed for Martin Luther King Day.

“Of course, people think gasoline prices are high, but what they have to recognize is we are sitting on top of $64 crude oil. That really is the genesis of most of this bounceback that we’re having,” he said.

While filling up her tank yesterday at the Pinecrest Exxon on Little River Turnpike in Alexandria, Diane Petruso of Annandale said she tries to save money by stringing together her errands.

“But I do drive a lot, so I can’t conserve too much,” said Mrs. Petruso, who is buying a home in Richmond and recently logged hundreds of miles traveling to and from the state capital.

“I know that gas is cheaper in other places. I think it’s outrageous.”

Statewide, the average price of regular gas in Virginia was $2.29 yesterday compared with $2.37 in Maryland. In the District, consumers paid an average of $2.46 per gallon.

“It’s worth driving around to find the best price,” said Kevin Doan of Vienna, Va., who fills up near his mother’s home in Alexandria because gas is about 10 cents cheaper there.

Many drivers had been preoccupied with holiday activities and did not notice the climb in gas prices, said John Townsend II, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“They just started going back up, and people diverted their gaze,” Mr. Townsend said.

“Right under the radar screen, a penny, a penny, a penny, sometimes 2 cents, and it just climbed back up.”

Alexandria resident Harold Rissell had more reason than the average motorist to be surprised by the price of gas. Mr. Rissell was filling up his Toyota RAV4 yesterday for the first time since he recently ended a long stay at Inova Fairfax Hospital, which he entered Dec. 1.

“When I went in [the hospital] it was $2.02,” Mr. Rissell said. “So, I am no short of shocked.”

Mr. Burdette said he expects the gasoline market to remain relatively “quiet” between now and March, when the market will shift its focus from heating fuel to building up gasoline inventories for the coming months.

“The real question is going to be once we get to March, what are the inventory levels looking like and then that will set the stage for how spring and summer are going to go,” he said.

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