Don’t rev your engines in celebration just yet. But even though Memorial Day is several weeks off, and even though gas prices tend to rise through the onset of summer, some experts are saying that prices at the pump have already soared as high as they will, at least through the near future.
Through early 2012, as gas prices have climbed steadily, the assumption has been that the national average cost for gallon of regular would easily top $4, and perhaps go much higher by May or June. Yet here we are in early April, and gas prices have already begun retreating. The AAA Fuel Gauge Report says the current national average is $3.915 as of Wednesday, down from $3.922 on Tuesday and $3.928 the week before. Earlier this week, Consumer Reports noted that the national average price for gas had remained steady over the prior seven days, and prices had actually declined in both the Midwest and West Coast.
In some spots, gas prices have plummeted. The Detroit Free Press reported that after soaring past the $4 mark, gas prices in Michigan had dropped 13¢ in a week’s time. And prices are still dropping there: A gallon now costs $3.85 in Michigan, down from $3.90 on Monday. In Chicago, where a gallon ran $4.67 at the end of March, the average has come down to $4.33 per gallon of late.
Now, both the Los Angeles Times and USA Today have published stories speculating that the much-hyped gas price hikes of 2012 may have already come and gone. No wonder consumers haven’t been freaking out about gas prices: At some level, they must have known that the latest “crisis” could very well disappear in a blip.
One GasBuddy expert told USA Today that the national average could dip as low as $3.70 over the next few weeks:
“By the behavior of the market, things are just running out of steam,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior analyst for price tracker gasbuddy.com. “Barring any major event — refinery problems, Iran — I think prices have peaked.”
That prediction is hardly the consensus opinion, though. The U.S. Energy Department has just forecast a national average of $4.01 when they hit their peak in May. Prices should remain quite high through the summer and early fall too. According to the Department of Energy, drivers can expect to pay an average of $3.95 per gallon from April through September.
Government officials also stated there’s a “small chance” the national average could increase rapidly in the weeks ahead, hitting as high as $4.50 in June. Does anyone really know what’ll happen? Based on the wide range of predictions and would-be scenarios, the answer’s obvious: Nope, nobody knows.
It does appear likely that prices will rise significantly in certain parts of the country. Specifically, according to CNN Money, prices in the Northeast are likely to spike in the months ahead because refineries in the East Coast have shut or will shut soon, diminishing the supply and causing prices at the pump to rise as a result.