By Johnny Jackson
Area residents may be hard pressed to find a gallon of gas for less than $3, these days.
AtlantaGasPrices.com reported, by midday Friday, only one gas station in the metro Atlanta region remained below the $3-mark, at $2.99 per gallon for regular unleaded gas, while other stations in North Atlanta posted prices as high as $3.49 per gallon.
The web site --part of the Brooklyn Park, Minn.-based dot-com company, GasBuddy.com -- has seen heavy online traffic lately, according to Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com.
"There is an explosion of traffic right now, corresponding with the increase in gas prices," said DeHaan. "It doesn't come as a real surprise. Whenever gas prices go high, interest in saving money at the pump also goes up quickly. And it's looking like prices will continue to rise."
DeHaan said the web site is a community-driven program that tracks gas prices of more than 120,000 gas stations in each state, and major cities in the U.S., as is reported live by volunteer spotters.
According to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, average prices spiked overnight nationally, rising from $3.22 per gallon for regular unleaded gas, on Thursday, up to $3.28, on Friday.
The report revealed a similar increase in Georgia, from an average of $3.14 per gallon for regular unleaded gas, on Thursday, up to $3.20, on Friday. The increase in metro Atlanta was more modest, rising from $3.15, to $3.19 per gallon.
"It's almost impossible to predict where prices will go," said AAA Auto Club South Spokeswoman, Jessica Brady. "Until there is a clearer picture of how things will unfold in the Mideast -- whether or not they will escalate and get worse, or settle -- it really is unclear what direction retail gas prices will go, or how high they could go."
Brady said investors were concerned earlier this month over events occurring in Egypt, and whether those events would disrupt oil exporting.
"Now the focus is on Libya," she said. "The fear is that this unrest, and the protests, could spread to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and affect oil production and exports."
Crude oil has been trading this week, on the New York Mercantile Exchange, at its highest levels since 2008, according to the AAA spokeswoman. Crude oil prices have pushed the national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas up by 13-cents over the past week.
Brady noted February's national average price per gallon of regular unleaded gas is more than any other February, year-over-year in the past decade, with a monthly average of $3.14, as of Friday.
"Investor concerns about the Mideast and North Africa are legitimate, since they account for 35 percent of the world's oil supply and reserves," added Brady. "OPEC [The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] has said they have ample supply to use as a last resort."
Brady said there are things consumers can do to get more out of a tank of gas, by making minor adjustments to their driving habits and car maintenance.
"Something as simple as driving the speed limit, and having properly inflated tires can increase a vehicle's miles per gallon up to 33 percent," she said.
She advised that reducing the haul load of a vehicle can help on gas mileage, as well as conservative use of the air conditioner. And most can reduce their fuel costs by driving sensibly and safely.
"Aggressive driving, speeding, and rapid acceleration waste gas, and can lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds, and by 5 percent in city limits," Brady said. "Sensible driving not only saves gas, but is safer for yourself and those around you."