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    Feds Predict Rocketing Fuel Prices

    Gas prices won't reach levels seen last year, but consumers are expected to see third-highest rates on record.

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. drivers will pay an average $1.46 for a gallon of gasoline during the busy summer driving season, 8 cents lower than last summer's average but the third highest on record, a government report said yesterday.

    In its latest forecast, the Energy Department's statistical arm said that amid record demand for motor fuel, even though there will be a "greater inventory cushion this year at the start of the driving season, the summer average for nominal pump prices is expected to be the third highest on record, after 2001 and 2000."

    While U.S. crude oil and gasoline inventories are now above last year's levels, they are expected to decline "to less ample levels" through the summer and into the fall, EIA said.

    "Average gasoline prices will most likely remain below the 2001 average for the driving season, but there is a slight possibility that they could be higher than last summer's levels, especially if refining problems develop or the crude oil market becomes more tight," EIA said.

    Summer gasoline demand was projected at a record 8.8 million barrels per day, up 140,000 barrels per day, or 1.6 percent, from last summer, the EIA said.

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