'Spring rise' expected for gasoline prices

Average pump prices in the Pittsburgh region sit around $2.55 a gallon this morning, down one cent from last week, according to GasBuddy’s survey of more than 700 stations in southwestern Pennsylvania.

But though gasoline in the region has stayed relatively flat in February, analysts expect a large increase to begin in coming weeks.

That’s mostly because refineries across the nation are preparing to undergo seasonal maintenance to produce cleaner-burning gasoline for the summer. Each spring, average gasoline prices rise 35 to 75 cents from February to May amid temporary refinery shut-downs and higher demand for gasoline as Americans drive more with warmer weather.

Last week, GasBuddy analysts “called bottom,” predicting U.S. prices would begin rising.  

Along with higher demand for gasoline, trends in the oil market could push prices higher.

Last year, Pittsburgh-area prices increased 73 cents from late-February to mid-June.

An international agreement brokered last fall by major oil producers — members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, as well as countries outside of that group — has gone into effect to limit production. The agreement aims to alleviate a global oversupply that has weighed down prices for more than two years.

Still, the effect on prices is unclear. Since the global oil price benchmark hit $58 a barrel in early January — the highest mark since the summer months of 2015 — oil prices have eased. This morning, global prices hovered around $56 a barrel.

Pittsburgh-area gasoline is already higher than in most of the country. Pennsylvania has the eighth-most expensive price per gallon, in part because the state has the highest fuel taxes in the country. The U.S. average this morning is $2.28 a gallon, 27-cent premium to Pittsburgh-area prices.

“The ongoing saga of global oil production limitations becomes less important as refineries begin the early stages of maintenance and turnarounds to accommodate summer gasoline blends,” said Dan McTeague, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst, in the site weekly media release. 

Pittsburgh-area gasoline prices are up 66 cents from this time one year ago and 17 cents higher than this time in 2015. Still, today’s averages are 95 cents lower than in 2014, and $1.27 cents lower than in 2013.

Daniel Moore: dmoore@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2743 and Twitter @PGdanielmoore.

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