TAMPA, Fla. - Motorists paid more for a gallon of gas this past January than ever before. January's monthly average was $3.37, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report, 28 cents more than January of 2011 and 66 cents more than in 2010 when the monthly average was $2.71. The national average is expected to surpass $3.50 a gallon this week, while Florida's average already hit $3.60.
The price of gasoline continues to rise even as oil prices trade below $100 a barrel for the fourth consecutive week. Closed refineries are being blamed for the rise in retail gas prices after multiple refineries shut down in the Northeast, Texas, and Louisiana. Typically, refineries go into maintenance mode at the start of March to begin the switch in production from the winter fuel blend to summer blend--an occurrence that jump starts the upward trend in summer pump prices.
The price of a barrel of oil fell last week after the Energy Department reported U.S. stockpiles rose to a 13-week high of 339 million barrels at the same time reports showed U.S. oil consumption fell to 17.7 million barrels a day. The numbers reflect the lowest demand level for the U.S. since May of 1999. A barrel of oil settled Friday at $97.84 on the New York Mercantile Exchange--$1.72 less than the week prior.
"February's pump prices aren't looking any better than January," said Jessica Brady, AAA spokeswoman, The Auto Club Group. "As we get closer to March, more and more refineries will start to shut down for annual maintenance and to swap fuel blends. We very well could see prices rise throughout the month of February, especially if U.S. payrolls continue to increase and more positive economic news hits the market."
The national average price of regular retail gasoline is $3.47, a 6-cent increase from last week. The average price for a gallon of gas in Florida ($3.60), Georgia ($3.49), and Tennessee ($3.38) also increased 6 cents from their state average last week, respectively.
CURRENT AND PAST PRICE AVERAGES: Regular Unleaded Gasoline
Current Week Ago Month Ago Year Ago
National: $3.478 $3.419 $3.352 $3.122
Tennessee: $3.386 $3.324 $3.218 $2.963