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NATIONAL REPORT -- Consumers hoping for a break in gasoline prices in 2013 will just have to hold out a bit longer. The national average price of gasoline has increased 49 cents per gallon since the beginning of the new year, which is the highest price increase through the end of February on record, according to the AAA's Monthly Gas Price Report.
The increase has resulted in the highest average prices ever for this time of year. The average price of gas in February was $3.65 per gallon, which was 10 cents higher than the previous record for the month set in 2012. Today's national average is $3.782 per gallon, 5 cents higher than the average a year ago.
“Gas prices increased at a dramatically faster pace than expected in February,” said Avery Ash, AAA spokesman. “Motorists unfortunately are paying more for gasoline than ever at this time of year, and it is primarily because of a decline in refinery production and higher wholesale futures prices.”
AAA pointed to a number of factors that could explain the dramatic price increase, including a decrease in refinery production in January and February for seasonal maintenance and facility upgrades, as well as unplanned refinery issues that resulted in the lowest rate of crude oil processing since April 2011.
As CSNews Online previously reported, the trend of U.S. refineries performing seasonal maintenance and switching to summer blend gasoline earlier in the year contributed to the corresponding earlier price increases, AAA said. When refineries go offline, regional supplies can decrease, making the market more sensitive to disruptions that could cause supply problems during the changeover period. The earlier schedule is a decision of the refiners and not caused by a deadline for the change to summer blend gas, which is required in certain areas.
While seasonal gas prices have recently peaked in April or May, it is possible that prices will peak earlier this year, at a lower national average than last year's high of $3.94 per gallon.
“There is a lot of uncertainty on where gas prices will go over the next few weeks, but hopefully the worst of the price spikes are behind us for now,” said Ash. “There is still refinery maintenance to be completed and most of the country must transition to summer-blend gasoline, so motorists are likely to face continued high prices in the weeks ahead.”
In addition, gas prices are varying by more than $1 per gallon between the most expensive and cheapest states. The Rocky Mountain region has the lowest gas prices because they are supplied by refineries with access to relatively cheap crude oil. California and New York have the most expensive prices in the United States and also the highest gasoline taxes in the nation.
An estimated 60 million Americans -- 20 percent of the U.S. population -- today live in a state where gas prices average more than $4 a gallon. This is compared to only about 8 million Americans, 3 percent, who live in a state where gas is less than $3.50 per gallon on average.
The map below presents average gasoline retail prices in the U.S. today.