By Johnny Jackson
Average gas prices are steady this first week of spring, although energy and industry officials anticipate seasonal increases as the summer driving season approaches.
The national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gas was $3.54 on Wednesday, down a penny from the week before, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
The report revealed that Georgia experienced a decline in average prices, from $3.47 per gallon of regular unleaded gas about a week ago, to $3.44 on Wednesday. Metro Atlantans are paying $3.44 per gallon on average.
The flat line in average gas prices reflected a similar line for crude oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), according to Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.
The price of crude oil barely moved from last week, said Brady, noting the 5-cent decrease in crude oil prices that settled at $101.07 a barrel on Friday's NYMEX.
Bloomberg.com's Stock Market & Financial Markets Overview indicated crude oil trading held around $105 per barrel Wednesday, on NYMEX.
"News that Moammar Gadhafi ordered his regime to cease fire on the rebels and would try to resolve the dispute helped keep oil prices at bay," said Brady.
Brady said concerns still linger as protests continue in middle eastern nations such as Bahrain, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, as well as Libya.
"This is the first week in more than a month that retail gas prices showed a decrease," Brady said. "It's uncertain whether prices will continue to drop this week since there is still much turmoil in the Mideast that could push oil prices higher."
Crude oil spot prices have risen about $15 per barrel since mid-February partly in response to the disruption of crude oil exports from Libya, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Crude oil is projected to average $105 per barrel in 2011, according to EIA's March 2011 Short-Term Energy Outlook, which is a monthly report on projected U.S. energy costs.
EIA reported that the new projection for crude oil is about $14 higher than projected in its February report. The administration began the year -- in its January report -- forecasting crude oil prices would average about $93 for 2011. That forecast was $14-per-barrel higher than the average price in 2010.
Higher crude oil prices, energy officials anticipate, will continue to be passed along at the pump, as the summer driving season approaches.
EIA projects the average cost for a gallon of regular unleaded gas will be $3.56 in 2011, 77-cents per gallon higher than the 2010 average. The administration projects prices will rise to an average of about $3.70 per gallon for regular unleaded gas, between April and September.