Business & Real Estate

Experts: Gas prices have hit bottom, ready to rise through May

The feel-good run of low gasoline prices is coming to an end, and a steep price run-up at the pump is likely to occur between Presidents Day and Memorial Day, according to energy experts.

National gas price tracker said Wednesday that gas prices had reached the “bottom” nationwide and will start climbing as refineries throughout the United States start gearing up to produce cleaner-burning, more-expensive spring-summer blends of gasoline.

For perspective, GasBuddy projected that the nation’s daily gasoline bill will rise from the current $788 million to as much as $1.1 billion by Memorial Day.

“While I remain optimistic this year will not bring a running of the bulls, we’re likely to see some major increases at the gas pump as the seasonal transition and refinery maintenance get underway,” said Dan McTeague, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.

California’s strict emissions standards require in-state refineries to produce Golden State-specific warm-weather gas blends.

Across the nation, GasBuddy predicted that gasoline prices will rise between 35 and 75 cents per gallon by early spring, with prices likely peaking in May.

GasBuddy said major cities, including Los Angeles, can expect $3 a gallon gasoline “very soon.”

On Wednesday, GasBuddy said the average price of gas in Sacramento was $2.72 a gallon, up 4 cents from last week and 60 cents higher than on the same date one year ago.

The national average on Wednesday was $2.28 a gallon, up 2 cents from last week and 59 cents higher than the year-ago average of $1.69.

California prices also have been affected by production problems at in-state refineries over the past several weeks, according to AAA.

“California gas prices inched higher due to refinery maintenance last week as Chevron shut down two production refineries in El Segundo and Richmond due to unplanned maintenance and problems with production equipment,” said John Moreno, spokesman for AAA Northern California. “Gas prices on the West Coast remain the highest in the nation.”

AAA said the average cost of unleaded regular gasoline statewide Wednesday was $2.88 a gallon. In the Los Angeles area, the average was $2.97; it was $2.99 in San Francisco.

Motorists in the Sacramento area and throughout the nation have enjoyed unusually low gasoline prices for more than a year, a byproduct of ample U.S. fuel reserves, low crude oil prices and increased domestic fuel production.

In addition, gas prices defied historic trends in 2016. At-the-pump prices were relatively flat throughout last summer, when costs typically swell during the vacation driving season.

Red flags went up Nov. 30, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries announced an agreement to cut oil production by 1.2 million barrels a day in 2017.

AAA said those cuts have had an effect just weeks into 2017. On Monday, OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report showed that participating countries had implemented a reduction of 890,000 barrels of oil per day in January.

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover