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Gas prices climb as holiday weekend nears

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The national average price of gas has climbed 25 cents per gallon since May 1, according to AAA Auto Club South.

In less than three weeks, Georgia's gas prices have escalated 29 cents, AAA reported.

The current national average price per gallon, $2.31 for regular unleaded, has already exceeded the peak price ($2.25 per gallon) which the U.S. Department of Energy projected in February, said Gregg Laskoski, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South.

Laskoski said the higher price will likely be met with increased demand from increased travel.

He said he expects travel to increase this summer, with a 1.5 percent increase in Memorial Day weekend travel. AAA anticipates more than 32 million people nationwide will travel this weekend. The auto group predicts 908,000 people will travel this weekend in Georgia alone, 757,000 of those by automobile.

Laskoski linked the potential increase in travel and gas demand to a perceived notion the economic downturn will turn around sooner rather than later.

"Despite the 4 percent drop in crude oil this past week, the perception that economic recovery is pending is also helping to keep both oil and gasoline prices moving higher for the short term," Laskoski said.

AAA reported gas prices Monday averaged $2.31 per gallon for regular unleaded gas nationwide, and $2.18 per gallon in Georgia, some $2 less than the record high $4.16 per gallon last year. Diesel, too, has settled in at $2.19 in Georgia, below premium and mid-grades of gas, and $2.66 per gallon less than the record set in July 2008.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects regular gas retail prices will average $2.21 per gallon, about $1.60 less than last summer.

EIA projects this year's average retail prices, forecasted for $2.12 per gallon for regular, would be the lowest since 2004 and more than a dollar less than the $3.26 per gallon average in 2008.

EIA officials said crude oil should also remain relatively flat for the remainder of 2009, averaging about $55 per barrel over the second half of 2009.

Though crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed Friday at $56.34 per barrel, the EIA is projecting an average of $52 per barrel for 2009 - much less than the average $99.57 per barrel in 2008.