RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And the Energy Department projects that gasoline prices this summer will be cheaper than last year by three cents, and less than many drivers are paying now. To be precise, $2.81 a gallon on average.
NPR's Scott Horsley has more.
SCOTT HORSLEY: The good news for drivers is that high summertime gas prices should be lower than last year's. The bad news is those high summertime prices are already here. The average price at the pump is already within a penny of the summer forecast, even though Memorial Day is still seven weeks away.
The Energy Department's Tancred Lidderdale says pump prices have jumped more than 60 cents a gallon over the last 10 weeks.
Mr. TANCRED LIDDERDALE (U.S. Department of Energy): This price run-up certainly happened earlier than usual and one of the big driving forces was refining problems, particularly on the West Coast, which has driven up prices over $3 a gallon.
HORSLEY: That means big profits for the refineries that are making gasoline. But as more refiners pick up the pace, gasoline prices should level off. The Energy Department expects gas prices to hit their summer peak next month.
That's assuming crude oil prices average in the $65-a-barrel range - lower than last year, but slightly above where they are right now. Lidderdale says crude oil prices are one of the hardest things to predict. They've see-sawed from as low as $50-a-barrel to as high as $66, in just the last three months. With ongoing uncertainty in the Persian Gulf, and growing demand for oil in the U.S. and China, Lidderdale says the market is likely to remain tight.
Mr. LIDDERDALE: And what that means is that any unexpected disruption to supplies or any unexpected surge in consumption can have some significant impacts on prices.
HORSLEY: Even as oil and gasoline prices bounce around, consumer demand for gasoline has continued its steady increase. Except for the severe price shock following the 2005 hurricanes, no amount of pain at the gas pump seems to keep American drivers off the road.
Scott Horsley, NPR News.
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