Regular grade gasoline will average $2.62/gallon this summer, which is a $0.25 increase from last year’s average, according to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) Short-Term Energy and Summer Fuels Outlook. EIA, the statistical branch of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), estimates that despite the high prices, drivers will continue to be on the roads, averaging 9.4 million barrels of gas a day (1.5 percent more than last summer).
The forecast, which was released April 11, considers the summer driving season to be April through September. Guy Caruso, EIA administrator, said prices will peak in May but decline in late summer. He added that a gallon of gas can vary by $0.27 to $0.50 across different regions of the country.
EIA predicts that crude oil prices will also remain high, averaging $65/barrel. Oil prices constitute $0.19 of the $0.25-projected gasoline price increase because oil accounts for approximately half the cost of gasoline, according to Caruso. The forecast does not consider the possibilities of an active hurricane season or refinery problems, but in addition to crude oil prices, accounts for demand and requirements for low-sulfur gasoline.
Another factor affecting gasoline prices is the phasing out of MTBE, a high-octane, low-vapor pressure additive that has been found to taint water supplies. As refiners halt the use of MTBE, ethanol is being used as a substitute. However, with not enough to meet demand, ethanol prices are increasing, creating higher overall gas prices. In fact, as reported in a story on CNN.com, the price of ethanol has risen by about $0.50/gallon due to increased demand. When used as an additive, ethanol accounts for about 10 percent of gasoline volume.
DOE suggests several ways to help cope with high gasoline prices. First, drivers should slow down their speed, as every five miles per hour (mph) accelerated over sixty mph is equivalent to paying an additional $0.15/gallon for gas. Also, aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration, braking) and excessive idling should be avoided. Keeping a car maintained with regular tune-ups and oil changes, properly inflating tires, and cleaning air filters is important. In addition, DOE recommends carpooling, using mass transit, telecommuting, and keeping a car’s weight light by not carrying unnecessary loads. According to DOE, combining these tips can equal up to a dollar of savings per gallon.
AAA also has some suggestions for motorists, including checking the manufacturer’s recommended octane level for the vehicle to determine what grade of gas is required. If premium or middle grade fuel is unnecessary, purchase less-expensive, regular unleaded gasoline. Also, because air conditioning can drastically reduce fuel economy, use it only when needed. AAA recommends buying gasoline during the coolest time of day or during the late evening because these are times when gasoline is most dense. Other tips include closing car windows when traveling at highway speeds (air drab may reduce mileage by 10 percent) and removing snow tires during the warm seasons to avoid wasting fuel.