By Johnny Jackson
AAA Auto Club South reported this week that metro-Atlanta gas prices are steadily climbing toward levels last seen this past summer.
According to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report, metro Atlantans are now spending 10 cents more, on average, for a gallon of regular, unleaded gasoline than they did this time a year ago, and 27 cents more than a month ago.
The report revealed that area residents paid an average $2.57 per gallon for regular unleaded on Monday and Tuesday, roughly 15 cents more than the week before.
"The prices people have seen are due, much more, to the weakness of the U.S. dollar, than the supply and demand," said AAA Auto Club South Spokesman Gregg Laskoski.
According to Laskoski, the weakness in the U.S. dollar has driven crude oil prices higher over the past three weeks, despite weak consumer demand and ample fuel supplies, a combination that traditionally helps keep crude oil and gas prices down this time of year.
Crude oil prices topped $80 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) last week, closing at $80.50 on Oct. 23, which is, so far, the highest posted weekly NYMEX closing price of the year.
The year's record price, Laskoski said, drove wholesale and retail gas prices up to levels experienced this past summer. Meanwhile, average gas prices are about the same, nationally, as they were this time in 2008, at $2.67 per gallon of regular unleaded.
"There's a very real possibility that the U.S. dollar could weaken [even more], and we would see crude oil prices climb higher than where we are now," added Laskoski . "Unless we see a change of direction for the dollar, the current run-up for oil might last longer than many economists and oil analysts expect."
Several factors, he continued, may contribute to this winter's fuel prices, and whether they increase or decline. Among them is the weather, he said, particularly in the northeast where there may be a need for refineries to significantly increase their output of heating oils.
"Operating conditions at refineries can also come into play -- whether there are any maintenance or infrastructure problems," he said.
While an upturn in the economy may have good effects on the U.S. dollar, said Laskoski, it can also adversely affect retail gas prices.
"If the economy strengthens, we will see more people going back to work and more leisure travel," he continued. "Any time consumer demand increases, it has the effect of increasing the price of fuel."