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$3 a gallon gas could be on the horizon sooner than you think

Gas prices could exceed $3 per gallon by May and costs at the pump will continue to rise into the summer, an expert said.

Area motorists saw gas prices jump 30 cents earlier this week from $2.33 per gallon to $2.63, a trend GasBuddy Analyst Patrick DeHaan said area drivers should expect through May.

The average Dayton-area gas price Friday was $2.57 per gallon, according to GasBuddy, up 71 cents from a low of $1.87 at the start of the year. Average price per gallon in Springfield was $2.55 and Butler County’s was $2.57.

Prices haven’t been this high since early November, according to GasBuddy. Ohio’s gasoline prices have increased more than any other state this year except Michigan, according to 24/7 Wall St.

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“It’s a number of different contributing factors: higher demand, lower fuel supplies and they are doing the switch-over, the spring maintenance, getting ready to go into the summer fuel blends…The winter blend is cheaper to produce and the summer blend is a little bit more expensive,” said Kara Hitchens, spokeswoman for Miami Valley AAA.

The EPA requires the changeover to a summer blend and will have one of the largest impacts on price, DeHaan said.

Another major seasonal impact is the refinery maintenance that started in February and March, which has narrowed supply. Maintenance could be front loaded this year because of new International Maritime Organization requirements for ships to use ultra low sulfur diesel starting in 2020.

“Most refiners are trying to avoid maintenance this autumn, as profits will likely be higher later this year. That means more refineries are doing maintenance this spring instead of this fall, crimping gasoline supply just as we’re making the seasonal changes to the EPA-mandated specifications,” DeHaan said.

As supply is decreasing, demand is also increasing as more people start spring travels, Hitchens said.

“When you come out of winter, you’re kind of ready for spring, ready for summer, ready to start traveling,” she said. “There’s no way to 100 percent call what’s going to happen, but this is a trend that’s happening across the country, so there’s potential for it to go higher.”

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A barrel of oil is also running about $60, DeHaan said, the highest its been in months due to cuts from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the Venezeula crisis.

But area travelers looking to fill their tanks and gas cans could take advantage of a slight decrease this weekend, DeHaan said.

Costs at the pump may lower through the weekend, but every five to 10 days, area motorists can expect to see gas prices hike again, DeHaan said

“It’s something we call price cycling. Each time we get a price hike it’ll likely be 5 to 10 cents per gallon higher than the last one, or perhaps the same, but this will continue until May sometime, I’d estimate,” he said.

The hikes could bring Dayton’s average gas price above $3 per gallon until the price slowly begins to fall in June to remain in the upper $2’s for most of the summer, DeHaan said.

Area motorists have enjoyed relatively low fuel costs for most of the last few months, with prices bottoming out at an average $1.87 in Dayton around the new year. Nationally, prices have been higher than Dayton’s, bottoming close to $2.25 on Jan. 1, according to GasBuddy data.

Gas prices are higher now in Ohio, with an average of $2.53 across the state, than this time last year at $2.44, according to AAA data.

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