Pain at the pump

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 05:05 AM

Over the last month, the cost of a gallon of unleaded gasoline has risen nearly 40 cents.

According to AAA Carolinas, a gallon of gas was priced at $3.36 on Jan. 20. However, as of Friday, the price skyrocketed to $3.85 at most gas stations in Rutherford County.

Angela Vogel Daley, spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas, said that the increase in price is due to an increase in crude oil prices. She said that oil prices have been on the rise over the last six weeks and that is starting to filter to the gas pump.

Additionally, positive national and international economic news coupled with refinery maintenance have also contributed to the price increase.

That is taking its toll on Rutherford County drivers.

“We are already starting to see people restrict their driving,” Daley said. “They may not plan drive trips like they usually will. Demand will likely diminish which will also affect prices.”

The price increase can be attributed to other factors such as commodity futures and refinery blend transfers.

“There has been a wide swath of people, hedge funds and others that have been throwing money at oil and that is making a big difference in oil prices,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com.

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February and March are traditionally times when refineries will conduct annual maintenance and make the switch from winter to summer fuel blends. That, according to both Daley and DeHaan, will also cause gas prices to rise.

With that transition going slower than usual, it may lead to gas prices remaining high for the next six weeks.

“I don’t believe the switchover is anywhere near being done,” DeHaan said. “We aren’t even close. Southern California is ahead of everyone else and they just completed.”

A burning question surrounding gas prices is when they will reach the $4-per-gallon threshold.

“It’s hard to say where it will top out at,” Daley said. “Last year, we peaked at $3.91 on April 6. So, it could get that high and it could get even higher.”

DeHaan said that he expects that gas in North Carolina will reach $4 per gallon but it may not stay at that level for long.

One reason for that rationale is that if the $4 threshold is met, demand will likely diminish, thus causing oil and gas prices to take a downward turn.

“The American people have a threshold at around $4 before they really restrict their driving,” Daley said.

But, just when will residents of Rutherford County start to see a drop in gasoline prices?

“Relief is coming. It will probably take a few days for it to filter down,” DeHaan said. “Gas prices are starting to come down as is the price of oil. Americans are going to have to wait a little bit but it’s coming.”