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Tue, Sept. 17

Gas prices will top $3 a gallon
AAA expects leveling trend after recent surge at the pump

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br/>The Chevron gas station just off U.S. 93 on Beale Street was charging $3.10 a gallon  Thursday.<br/><br/>

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br/>The Chevron gas station just off U.S. 93 on Beale Street was charging $3.10 a gallon Thursday.<br/><br/>

KINGMAN - It's déjà vu all over again for Kingman motorists, who have been watching local gas prices rise steadily over the past several months, now swiftly approaching the $3 mark and, in at least one location, exceeding it.

Gas prices have been on the rise for over a year now, following their bottoming out in the winter of 2008 after reaching record highs the previous summer. Today, the average price for a gallon of gas in Kingman stands at $2.87, or nearly 80 cents higher than it was a year ago.

That's just a few cents higher than the current statewide average of $2.839 a gallon, which in turn is slightly above the national average of $2.813 a gallon. Currently, the most expensive gas in Arizona can be found in Flagstaff, where motorists pay $2.953 per gallon, while Tucson motorists pay the lowest at $2.738.

While prices have been rising steadily as the economy has slowly started to emerge from the past years' doldrums, the rise has accelerated notably in the past five weeks, according to AAA Arizona Public Affairs Specialist Michelle Donati.

"A couple of things have happened over the last five weeks, one of them being that oil prices have come back up," Donati said. "Five weeks ago, oil was trading in the $70 range, but it's been trading around the $80 mark for the last couple of weeks, in the last week in particular, it's hovered from $79 to $82."

Part of the reason for that, she said, is because March is typically the time of year when many oil refineries shut down for routine maintenance, which can temporarily stretch the amount of available gasoline. At the same time, certain states are beginning to make the switch from their regular blend of fuel to a more-expensive, cleaner-burning "summer blend," which tends to boost prices even in those regions that aren't required to use it, since less conventional fuel is being produced.

"Still, supplies are very healthy and demand is still pretty bleak, so the amount of increase we've experienced has been pretty minimal with those factors considered," Donati said.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, recently agreed to keep oil production at their current levels, which Donati said suggests continued stability in the oil market over the summer driving season. For this reason, she said, motorists in Arizona should expect increased demand to bring gas prices above the $3 mark, but not much higher than that, meaning we will likely be spared the spikes of summer 2008.

"If there were to be some dramatic shift in demand, something unforeseen, then it could happen, but given what the market's doing now, it's unlikely," she said.

That said, however, Donati noted that gas prices have become increasingly untethered from their traditional price controls of supply and demand, and are now more easily impacted by general shifts in the regional and global economy. She pointed to the precipitous drop in gas prices that accompanied the economic collapse in fall and winter of 2008 as a prime example of such behavior, and did not rule out the possibility that, as the jobs situation in the U.S. begins to recover as economists have predicted, that gas may buck its historical trends.

"We've said all along, when the price of fuel was above $4 and then fell down to $1.50, that the price would indeed come back again," Donati said.

As per usual, California currently maintains the highest gas prices in the continental U.S., with motorists there paying $3.109 a gallon. Missouri has the lowest gas prices, averaging just $2.628 per gallon.

For more information on local gas prices, visit www.aaaaz.com, click "Automotive," then "Gas Prices."

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