State gas prices gaining on national average

Georgia is fast-closing the gap between local, average gasoline prices and the national average price.

Over the past month, the state has seen a 9-cent increase in regular unleaded gas prices overall, while the nation has only seen a 3-cent increase over that period, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report.

AAA reported that, by mid-day Tuesday, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Georgia was $2.64, compared to $2.70 nationally. A week prior, the state average was $2.58 and the national average was $2.66, and on the same day a month ago, the state average was $2.55 against a national average of $2.67.

"This week is important to watch, and will give us a good idea where crude prices and, ultimately, retail prices will head in the near future," said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South. "Prices will likely continue their upward trend, but the state of Chile's oil refineries, that have shut down because of power outages, could lead to higher than expected prices."

While prices have held steady, so far this first week of March, at $2.65 in metro Atlanta, consumers here saw gas prices increase by 10 cents during the final week of February, according to AAA.

Brady said the spike in retail prices was a response to crude oil increasing after reports revealed that the U.S. economy grew more than expected in the last quarter of 2009, by 5.9 percent.

"In addition, the Commerce Department said the gross domestic product gained the most in six years, which led Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake to say the U.S. economy is in the ... beginning of a recovery," Brady said. "The dollar [also] weakened towards the end of last week against the euro and helped crude prices accelerate [... leading] investors to believe demand is on an upward trend."

As fuel prices are expected to continue to climb this month, consumers may find retailers in their area with cheaper prices than most through AtlantaGasPrices.com, or GasBuddy.com, consumer-driven gas-price-update web sites operated by GasBuddy Organization, Inc.

BJ's Wholesale Club in McDonough was listed among those having the cheapest gas available Tuesday in metro Atlanta, at $2.49 per gallon of regular unleaded, according to AtlantaGasPrices.com. Conversely, the web site reported that the BP gas station along Ga. Highway 138 in Stockbridge was among those with the highest-priced gas in metro Atlanta, at $2.99 a gallon.

"With warmer weather approaching, prices will climb even further," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com. "A major reason for the rise is that refiners will soon begin maintenance to prepare for the summer driving season, cutting into supply. Some areas of the country are already moving towards more expensive, cleaner-burning summer fuels, boosting prices at the pump."

To learn more about local prices, visit the web site at www.GasBuddy.com.