Drivers Can Expect At Least a Few More Weeks of High Gas Prices

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Even as gas prices spiked in late summer, experts anticipated a fairly quick drop in prices at the pump soon after Labor Day. That hasn’t happened, partly because of the effects of Hurricane Isaac, and now gas prices aren’t expected to retreat until late September at the earliest.

Last year was the priciest ever overall for gasoline, yet according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, the national average for a gallon of regular at this time in 2011 was about 20¢ cheaper than it is now. After a springtime and early summer period during which $3 gas was within reach, prices have again gone skyward, pushing the national average to $3.84 as of Tuesday, increasingly the likelihood that the new priciest year ever for gas will be the year we’re living through right now, 2012.

This week’s Energy Information Administration report states that the national average for gasoline remains flat compared to a week ago. That’s good, considering that prices had been creeping upward by 5¢ or even 10¢ per week in recent times. But it’s not as good as drivers might have expected, considering that prices were supposed to start dropping by now.

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Thanks to Hurricane Isaac, the anticipated decrease never occurred, and, insult to injury, drivers were hit with yet another price hike instead. Now, according to gas price-monitor site GasBuddy:

Gasoline prices may continue to remain at elevated levels for several weeks as refineries begin maintenance and supply is slow to rise. Real relief may not hit pumps until mid-to-late September. Gasoline prices are expected to bottom out between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As CNN Money reported, Chicago was the U.S. city with the highest average price of $4.30. The Second City has had a rough go of things in 2012, with prices hitting around $4.70 per gallon earlier this year.

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In Detroit, and Michigan as a whole, prices also remain, near or above $4 per gallon, per the Detroit News. Analysts said drivers would probably have to wait for at least a couple of weeks for a break in prices at the pump:

“Unfortunately, gas supplies remain relatively tight, with the hope that the second half of September … will see some price attrition,” Chief Oil Analyst Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service said.

This being a campaign season and all, the subject of rising gas prices is naturally being discussed by political candidates, with the Republicans claiming that the Obama administration may hold more responsibility than Mother Nature, refinery closures, or the global marketplace for increased prices at the pump. In a Q&A sessions in northern California, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan answered a query about rising gas prices by pointing the blame at the Democrats:

“This is not just something that squeezes family budgets, it squeezes businesses,” Ryan answered. “It also gives us a bad foreign policy in that we are so dependent on other countries for our oil imports, it’s the biggest part of our trade deficit and so what’s frustrating about the Obama administration’s policies are they’ve gone to great lengths to make oil and gas more expensive.”

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If gas prices drop in late September as expected, however, and keep plummeting in October and through Election Day, this is a topic that, presumably, won’t be discussed all that much in debates and on the campaign trail.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.