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    Fuel Prices Rise

    Seasonal hikes expected to crest at $1.50 per gallon, EIA says.

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. gasoline prices increased for the first time in two weeks, rising almost a penny per gallon over the last week to an average $1.397, the Energy Department said yesterday.

    Still, prices are sharply below a year ago when a gallon of gas hovered around $1.70 across much of the country.

    In its regular roundup of more than 800 service stations, the department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said it also expected pump prices to move higher as crude oil costs and gasoline demand increase over the next month.

    The national price for cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline, which is sold at one-third of the gas stations in cities and smoggier areas, was up 0.6 cents to $1.47 a gallon, EIA said.

    Spanning across the country, the survey showed the West Coast with the most expensive regular unleaded gasoline, although the average price in the region was down 0.9 cents a gallon to $1.51. The Gulf Coast gave motorists the cheapest fuel, with the average price in the region down 0.1 cents to $1.32 a gallon.

    While maintaining a hold as the most expensive metropolitan market, San Francisco did see prices fall 1.1 cents to $1.61 a gallon. Catching up, Chicago witnessed a huge 9.6-cent jump in the pump price to $1.60 a gallon. The best bargain was again in Houston, where gasoline was unchanged at $1.33 a gallon.

    The report also showed gasoline prices down 1.6 cents in Los Angeles to $1.52, unchanged in New York City at $1.46 and down 0.7 cents in Denver to $1.36.

    EIA has forecast that nationwide, the weekly average gasoline price is expected to peak at $1.50 a gallon over the next month, and average $1.44 during the busy summer driving season that runs April through September.

    Separately, the nationwide price for diesel fuel also increased for the first time in two weeks, jumping 1 penny to $1.309 a gallon, down 19 cents from a year ago. Truckers in New England and the central Atlantic states paid the most for diesel fuel at $1.40 a gallon, down 0.2 cents and up 0.4 cents, respectively, in each region. The lower Atlantic states had the cheapest diesel at $1.27 a gallon, up 0.6 cents.

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