Gasoline pump prices lingered at a 17-month high on Monday following a steady climb in recent weeks.
Nationwide average retail prices remained flat at $2.82 per gallon, the highest level since October 2008. Prices are up 18.6 cents in the past month, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.
Many experts and the government's Energy Information Administration think average gasoline prices will hit $3 or more this spring or summer before easing later in the year. More expensive blends to cut pollution in the warmer months and more drivers on the road should keep pump prices up.
The price rise comes as the economy continues its slow recovery from the Great Recession and deals with stubbornly high unemployment.
At $3 per gallon, a typical motorist using 50 gallons of gasoline a month will spend $150 on fuel. A year ago, prices were at $2 a gallon.
Higher gas prices hit drivers in some states harder than others. A study released this month by the Natural Resources Defenses Council found that drivers in Mississippi, Montana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina spent the largest part of their incomes on gasoline last year. Mississippi drivers on average spent 6.2 percent of their income, or $1,880, on gas — the highest percentage in the nation.
Although few forecast a spike in gasoline prices like that of July 2008, when average pump prices hit $4.11 per gallon, the NRDC said an unexpected jump that high would boost the amount Mississippi drivers spend on gasoline to 11 percent of their income, or $3,345.
At the other end of the spectrum, the report found that drivers in Connecticut spent the least on gas in 2009 — 2.5 percent of their income, or $1,391 — followed by New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Hampshire.
The government will release its weekly report on retail gasoline prices later Monday.
Pump prices could ease a couple of pennies later this week, since the monthlong rally in oil prices has stalled.
Benchmark crude for April delivery fell 28 cents to $80.40 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The April contract — which expires later Monday — dropped $1.52 to settle at $80.68 a barrel on Friday.
The May contract fell 19 cents to $80.78.
In other Nymex trading in April contracts, heating oil lost 0.71 cent at $2.0696 a gallon, and gasoline dropped 1.51 cents to $2.2405 a gallon. Natural gas slid 2.5 cents to $4.144 per 1,000 cubic feet. Earlier, natural gas hit a 52-week low at $4.036
In London, Brent crude fell 18 cents to $79.70 on the ICE futures exchange.
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