- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gasoline prices have climbed this month in the wake of a cold snap, and analysts expect prices to continue to rise — bad news for Washington area drivers who have seen prices increase four months in a row.

The price of unleaded gasoline in the Washington area shot up to $2.33 per gallon of unleaded fuel yesterday, a 17-cent jump from a month ago, according to AAA auto club’s daily fuel gauge report.

National fuel prices rose 21 cents in February to $2.38 a gallon and increased 6 percent from last year’s price of $2.24, according to the Energy Information Administration’s gasoline and diesel fuel update.

“You can blame some of the recent price increase on the vagaries of winter weather,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, based in the District.

Gasoline prices in the winter are, on average, lower than during other times in the year because people tend to drive less in the colder months.

This winter has proven to be an exception because of some dramatic shifts in weather. The unseasonably warm beginning to the season was replaced by icy storms and freezing temperatures in February.

“The cold snap we’ve experienced has generated higher fuel costs,” Mr. Townsend said. “The winter storms have created a greater demand for home heating oil.”

The sudden demand for home heating oil in February has driven up the price of light sweet crude oil, which closed yesterday at $61.46, a 14 percent increase from last month when oil was $54.01 a barrel.

“We’ve seen crude oil prices drop to low levels because of the mild weather, but now they are coming back up to the $60 range, which seems to be their comfort level,” said Michael Burdette, a spokesman for the federal Energy Information Administration.

On the supply side, analysts said global economic issues are affecting the price of oil.

“It’s hard to produce oil in Iraq when there are people shooting at you, and all the saber-rattling in Iran is still a factor,” said John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, a national trade organization for the oil and petroleum industry.

Net crude oil imports for the second week of February were 17 million barrels less than the previous week and 96 million barrels less than a year ago.

Total gasoline inventories fell 3.1 million barrels in the second week of February and were down nearly 1 percent over last year.

The current gas prices “will create a lot of discomfort for D.C. drivers because I think that [they] will continue to increase,” Mr. Townsend said. “I just hope it doesn’t go to $3 anytime soon.”

Mr. Burdette is less pessimistic about the increase in gas prices over the coming months and said the price of gasoline is unlikely to surpass $3 a gallon in the near future.

“If you carry [the increasing price of oil] on to the summer, we’re still only going to see gas prices at $2.60 or $2.70 per gallon,” Mr. Burdette said. “These prices are still low compared to the peaks we’ve seen in the past few years,” he said.

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