U.S. gasoline supplies should be adequate to meet demand through the Labor Day holiday in early September, but drivers will face more record pump prices, a senior government energy analyst said Tuesday.
The national retail price for regular unleaded gasoline hit a record high of $2.37 a gallon on Monday, according to the Energy Information Administration (search). On Tuesday, travel club AAA (search)'s daily fuel gauge report showed that U.S. average retail prices for gasoline and diesel climbed to record levels.
Retail regular gasoline averaged $2.354 per gallon, up 47.6 cents from a year ago, according to AAA's daily survey of 60,000 gas stations. Retail diesel, meanwhile, averaged $2.466 a gallon, 63 cents higher than the year-ago average.
California had the highest average prices among states for both gasoline and diesel, at $2.655 and $3.003 a gallon, respectively.
However, Doug MacIntyre, senior analyst at the EIA, said the EIA calculates gasoline spot prices have jumped 20 cents a gallon in less than two weeks and not all those costs have been passed on to consumers.
"That's just starting to be felt at the pump," MacIntyre told Reuters. "We know there's likely to be more price increases before they start coming down."
He said gasoline prices are up because of rising crude oil costs, strong motor fuel demand and recent shutdowns at several big refineries around the country, which have caused a drawdown in gasoline inventories.
"We probably are OK (with gasoline supplies) to get to Labor Day, but the question is how much is demand going to fall off (after the holiday) and what's crude going to do and how does that impact the gasoline price," MacIntyre said.
The EIA, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy, said the average price for diesel increased last week by 5.9 cents to $2.41 per gallon, less than half a penny from the current record high.
U.S. crude futures prices rose to an all-time high of $64.27 a barrel on Monday. And gasoline futures, which reflect wholesale values, likewise scaled a new peak of $1.8674 a gallon.
Prices have been boosted by a series of fires and other glitches that have plagued U.S. refineries that are running at 95.8 percent of capacity, according to the most recent EIA data for the week to July 29.
On Wednesday morning, the world's oil traders and the nation's drivers will get their next snapshot of how hard refiners are pushing their facilities when petroleum data are released by the EIA and the industry group American Petroleum Institute (search).
According to a Reuters survey of nine analysts, domestic inventories of crude oil are expected to decline by 200,000 barrels, gasoline supplies are projected to drop by 1.8 million barrels, distillate stocks which include diesel and heating oil are predicted to rise by 1.9 million barrels, and refinery runs are forecast to rise 0.2 percentage point to 96 percent of capacity.