Gas prices steady now, but likely to rise

Retail gasoline prices have been relatively unchanged this holiday season, according to industry officials.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's Short-term Energy Outlook forecasts that crude oil will average about $76 per barrel through March. AAA reported that the national average price of unleaded, regular gasoline was $2.60 per gallon on Monday, reflecting a 1-cent per gallon increase over the past week. Monday's national average was also 2-cents cheaper than the average a month ago.

"Last week, we reported on the substantial inventory of both crude and gasoline stocks," said, Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South. "And the retail fuel prices we see now continue to reflect those fundamentals, even with the increased fuel consumption associated with an increase in travel during this holiday season."

As a result, Brady said, average prices for gasoline continue to be moderate.

Georgia's average price for regular unleaded, at $2.46, increased by 3 cents over the past week and is 4 cents cheaper than last month, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

The report reveals, however, that this winter's fuel prices continue to surpass prices from 2008 by almost $1. The average per-gallon price of regular unleaded gas was $1.62 nationwide at this time in 2008. Georgians paid an average $1.54 per gallon a year ago, compared to the current $2.46.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's forecast, published earlier this month, however, anticipates that retail gas prices will eventually begin to rise, because of rising crude oil prices. The annual average price of regular unleaded gas is expected to increase from $2.35 per gallon in 2009, to $2.83 in 2010, with similar price hikes on heating oil and diesel fuel.

The increase in crude oil prices may be attributed to the winter, weather forecasts, which predict that the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. will have colder weather than normal, Brady said.

Brady said severe, cold weather tends to place additional pressure on U.S. refineries to meet growing demands for both heating oil and gasoline.

Gas prices will likely be even higher in the next year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The administration expects the monthly average price for crude oil will rise from $75 per barrel to $82 per barrel by December 2010, with continued growth in the economy.