U.S. gasoline hits $3.81 a gallon; may peak soon-survey

March 11 Sun Mar 11, 2012 6:47pm GMT

March 11 (Reuters) - The price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States rose 12.31 cents over the past two weeks reflecting higher crude oil prices, according to the nationwide Lundberg Survey, which also showed that increases were slowing.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline rose to $3.8148 on March 9, according to the survey of gasoline retailers in the continental United States.

Drivers in Denver saw the lowest pump price at $3.36 per gallon, nearly a $1 lower than the Los Angeles price of $4.35, the nation's highest.

Average prices had jumped 18.6 cents in the previous survey, and the newest increase represented the impact of the jump in crude oil prices in February, survey editor Trilby Lundberg said.

"There are reasons to believe the rate of increase may slow again," she said in an interview. "If crude does not jump again immediately, then the gasoline market will be able to peak soon."

U.S. crude oil futures reached a recent high near $110 a barrel on March 1, and have since slipped about $3 to close on Friday at $107.40.

Those crude prices are up more than 8 percent so far this year, largely due to market fears that efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program could spark a military confrontation in the Middle East.

Absent an increase in those tensions, gasoline prices in the United States are likely to turn lower in the coming weeks because of relatively soft consumer demand and as West Coast refineries return to operation from seasonal maintenance.

(Reporting By Matt Daily; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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