January gasoline prices hit record high

It looks like drivers had good reason to cringe at the sight of gasoline prices last month, when they stopped to fill up.

The reason: Gas prices hit an all-time high for the month of January, last month, with a national average price of $3.37 a gallon, said Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA The Auto Club.

The average this past January was 28 cents higher than January 2011, and 66 cents more than January 2010, when the average price was $2.71.

The national average price of a gallon of unleaded regular is expected to surpass $3.50 a gallon this week, she said.

“February’s pump prices aren’t looking any better than January,” added Brady. “As we get closer to March, more and more refineries will start to shut down for annual maintenance, and to swap fuel blends.”

She said the maintenance involves the switching from the winter fuel blend, to the summer fuel blend, which usually contributes to the rising trend in prices during the summer season.

Closed refineries are said to be major the cause of escalating prices, now, after several refineries closed in the Northeast, Texas and Louisiana, she said.

Motorists, Brady said, can expect prices to continue to increase this month, especially if U.S. payrolls keep rising, and more positive economic news hits the market.

The national average price of regular gasoline is $3.48 a gallon, a 7-cent hike from the week before, she said.

Georgia’s average price is $3.49, while Florida’s is $3.60, and Tennessee is at $3.38 a gallon, she explained. All states experienced an increase of 6 cents from the week prior.

Gasoline prices continue to increase, even as crude oil is trading at less than $100 a barrel for the fourth week in a row. She said a barrel of crude settled at $97.84 on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Feb. 3, $1.72 less than the week before.

The price of a barrel of oil decreased last week after the U.S. Department of Energy reported that U.S. stockpiles increased to a 13-week high of 339 million barrels, she said. Simultaneously, reports said that U.S. oil consumption declined to 17.7 million barrels a day, which reflects the lowest demand level in the country since May 1999, said Brady.