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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

Gas prices spurt upward

By Michelle Morgante
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — From coast to coast, drivers are digging deeper into their wallets to cover rising gasoline prices, which have leaped by an average of 23 cents per gallon over the last month — the most dramatic change in more than a decade.

Here's what Bay Area drivers are paying at the pump after the most drastic price increases in more than a decade.

Associated Press

Californians, who shoulder the added costs of reformulated gasoline mandated by pollution restrictions, are facing the highest prices on the U.S. Mainland. In the Bay Area, motorists have seen the average price rise to $1.68 from $1.42 a month ago.

The jump to yesterday's national average of $1.35 for unleaded, as reported in a AAA survey, can be attributed to a combination of factors. Analysts point to a recent decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil producers to hold down output, as well as the usual springtime rise in demand as driving time increases.

The four-week leap is the sharpest seen by the Energy Information Administration, the statistical branch of the Department of Energy, since it began keeping records in 1990.

Part of the reason is that gasoline prices fell to bargain levels — below $1 a gallon in some areas — when the Sept. 11 attacks raised apprehensions about travel and slowed the economy.

"Now that the economy has started to recover, and we're starting to head into the summer driving season, the industry is really having to come from behind a little bit," AAA spokesman Geoff Sundstrom said in Orlando, Fla.

Prices still are below the average of March 2001, when it was $1.43 due largely to the then-strong economy.

In Hawai'i, where the state government recently settled its $2 billion antitrust lawsuit against the oil industry over allegations of price fixing, gasoline prices have not followed the national trend and been on a slide for nearly a year.

A gallon of regular self-serve gas averaged $1.64 in Honolulu yesterday, down from $1.98 a year ago and about the same as a month ago, according to figures collected by AAA, the national auto club. Prices for premium and midgrade gasoline in Hawai'i also have declined at a comparable rate.

Worldwide, crude-oil prices have risen to about $25 a gallon since December, when OPEC decided that the $20 a barrel charged by its member nations was too low, said Douglas MacIntyre, senior oil market analyst with the Energy Information Administration in Washington.

Every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of crude oil translates into a per-gallon hike of about 2.5 cents, he said. If the trend continues, motorists should expect to see per-gallon prices rise another 5 cents to 15 cents over the next several weeks, he said.

Lisa Alcantara of Pacifica pumped $1.89-per-gallon premium into her Lexus SUV in San Francisco.

"It's crazy," she said. "I just have to get in my car and go and not think about it. ... There is not a whole lot you can do. We all need gas."

Exactly how far prices will climb is uncertain, said Carol Thorp, spokeswoman for the Auto Club of Southern California. Perhaps Americans who canceled travel plans last year because of high gas prices or security concerns will feel the urge to hit the highways this year, she noted.

"This summer is a question mark at the moment," Thorp said.

People who tell you they can predict what happens in a few months are just "not correct," she said.