WASHINGTON – U.S. drivers should expect to pay around $3 a gallon coast to coast for gasoline through the rest of the summer, the government's top energy forecasting agency said on Wednesday.
The federal Energy Information Administration said it expects "gasoline prices to remain in the vicinity of $3.00 per gallon for much of the rest of the summer, with any significant price declines not likely to occur before September (after the Labor Day holiday) when demand typically drops sharply."
The national price for regular unleaded gasoline increased 1.4 cents over the last week to $3 a gallon, up 71 cents from a year ago and the second highest pump price ever, the EIA said.
The agency said it was not sure if gasoline prices during one or more of the remaining weeks this summer will pass the record $3.07 a gallon hit last September after Hurricane Katrina disrupted petroleum supplies.
"For both August and September, an increased likelihood of hurricanes, particularly this season, is another major uncertainty that can dramatically affect gasoline prices, especially if the hurricanes are powerful and hit the major oil producing and refining centers along the Gulf Coast," the EIA said in its weekly review of the oil market.
The agency pointed out that, when adjusted for inflation, gasoline prices are still far below the monthly average of about $3.20 a gallon posted in March 1981.
"Moreover, because today's car and light truck fleet has significantly better average fuel economy than the vehicles that were in use 25 years ago, the current average real fuel cost per mile of travel today remains significantly below its 1981 level," the EIA said.
High pump prices have not cut that much into Americans' driving habits.
In a separate report on Wednesday, the EIA said U.S. gasoline demand averaged 9.6 million barrels a day over the last four weeks, up 1.8 percent from the same period last year.
The strong demand helped lower gasoline inventories by 3.2 million barrels last week to 211 million, near the middle of the average range for fuel stocks at this time of year.