Augusta gas hits $2.14 a gallon

Reginald Bell didn't know he was in for a surprise when he pulled his car up to a Shell station earlier this week.

The $30 that filled up his small SUV last week gave him just over half a tank Wednesday.

"I just now noticed it. It's like it happened overnight," he said. "I'm just like, 'What happened?' "

Consumers across the area and nation have noticed a swift rise in fuel prices over the past several days. On Sunday the national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas had jumped to $2.31 from $2.21 a week before, according to AAA's daily fuel gauge report. In the Augusta area, the cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gas had risen from $2.04 to an average of $2.14.

In spite of the increase, industry experts say they expect a price slowdown in the coming weeks.

Gas prices regularly increase when the summer approaches because of a change from winter blend to summer blend fuel, said Lynda Hines, a spokeswoman for Augusta's AAA Auto Club South. The additives increase gas prices in the summer, but the jump will not compare to last year's, Ms. Hines said.

A year ago, motorists paid an average of $3.70 for a gallon of unleaded gas in the Augusta area, and $3.77 on average nationally. Last summer's high gas prices were, in part, because of oil prices that soared above $100 a barrel. A barrel of oil now costs less than $57, said Jessica Brady, the regional public relations specialist for AAA.

Industry experts believe the improving economy will put more drivers on the road. About 876,000 Georgia motorists traveled on Memorial Day weekend last year, according to a survey by AAA. This year, more than 908,000 plan to travel on Memorial Day weekend, and 83 percent of those surveyed said they will travel by vehicle.

"Whenever the economy improves, there's an increase in demand for gas," Mrs. Brady said. "Since more people are expected to be on the road, it appears we have had some economic recovery."

U.S. Department of Energy officials expect gas prices to level out at about $2.25 per gallon for regular unleaded gas, Mrs. Brady said. AAA estimates a national average of $2.50 a gallon as the max this summer.

Marty Koger, the owner of 12 BP gas stations in Augusta and Thomson, said higher gas prices, even if much lower than last summer, won't be good for business.

"I really don't think people are any better off today than they were last year," Mr. Koger said. "The increase means it's more difficult for us to sell either way."

David Black said the summer gas prices will keep him close to his Evans home on Memorial Day weekend.

"A month ago, it cost me less than $50 to fill my van up. Now it costs $62," he said while filling up at a Shell station Wednesday. "I'm still going to enjoy my long drives, but I won't be traveling out of town."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.


PRICES AT THE PUMP
  TODAY LAST WEEKLAST MONTH
Augusta area 2.14 2.04 1.87
Georgia2.18 2.10 1.91
U.S. 2.31 2.21 2.05
Source: AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report