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Gas price climb expected to slow

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

AAA, the auto club, expects a slowdown in gas-price hikes in metro Atlanta, but higher prices nonetheless.

While fuel and energy experts have reported declines in crude oil prices -- from $81.50 per barrel to $81.24 per barrel over the past week -- some Southeast locations have continued to see gas prices trend upward.

Some parts of Florida have already seen $3-a-gallon prices for regular gasoline, according to Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA.

California, Alaska, and Hawaii were the only states reporting averages above $3 per gallon for regular unleaded gas on Monday, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Californians paid an average of $3.08, against $3.42 in Alaska, and $3.46 in Hawaii.

AAA reported that Floridians were not far behind, averaging between $2.78 and $2.91 per gallon of regular unleaded in the state's more populated metropolitan areas. The price for Georgians was relatively cheap, with averages between $2.65 and $2.75 in its denser metropolitan areas. Gas in metro Atlanta stood at an average of $2.69 on Monday.

U.S. stockpiles of crude oil are at the highest level since August of 2009, with approximately 344 million barrels, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

AAA's Brady said fuel demand remains below average, both domestically and globally. She noted that consumers are not fully confident the economy and job market will improve soon, leading analysts to believe fuel demand will be slow to rise.

"This further supports the fact that the fundamentals of supply and demand do not support such high prices, which makes it very likely the price of crude oil will further decline this week, prolonging statewide increases and averages to $3 a gallon," Brady added.

Average gas prices likely will exceed $3 per gallon at times around the nation during the upcoming spring and summer driving seasons, according to officials with the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The EIA forecasts the annual, average price of regular unleaded gas will increase this year, and in years to come, from $2.35 per gallon in 2009, to $2.84 in 2010, and to $2.96 in 2011. Energy officials said the expected climb is the result of projected hikes in crude oil prices.