Retail gas prices likely to continue to rise

Regular, unleaded gasoline in most southeastern states has experienced a spike in price, said a spokeswoman for AAA’s The Auto Club Group.

Jessica Brady said Georgia’s average retail price for unleaded gasoline is $3.20 a gallon, this week, which is a 9-cent increase over last week’s average price. In Florida, the current average is $3.31, 6 cents more than the previous week, and Tennessee’s $3.12 average is a 7-cent increase.

The national average price, she said, is $3.27 a gallon, 4 cents higher than last week.

The price hikes, Brady said, are due to increasing tension in the West over Iran’s warning that it may block the Strait of Hormuz, a principal shipping channel for about one-fifth of the globe’s oil supply.

She said the U.S. and Europe are communicating about stricter sanctions on Iran to stop it’s nuclear program.

Positive signs of economic progress in the U.S. is also a contributing factor, she said, adding that the positive outlook will likely cause oil and gasoline prices to rise even more during the week.

“We’re likely to begin the New Year with a rally of optimism in the oil market, as the U.S. economy is forecast to continue to improve, coupled with concerns of Iranian tension and the possibility of a disruption in the country’s oil exports,” she said.

Prices at the pump in the U.S. may rise throughout the first half of the month, she added. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy reports that U.S. oil stockpiles fell to almost 323 million barrels in the middle of December, Brady said, the lowest level since December of 2008.

Even so, she added, the price of a barrel of crude oil closed on Dec. 30 at $98.83 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, 85 cents less than the prior week.