Cheaper local gas prices bucking national trend

The national average for regular-grade gas hit $3.52 a gallon, up 4.1 cents from a week earlier, the Energy Department said Monday. But in the Dayton area, the average price fell roughly 13 cents to $3.26 a gallon as of Monday, according to DaytonGasPrices.com.

The local average price fell another 1.6 cents on Tuesday.

The national average price is spiking early. Even in 2008, the year that average gasoline prices hit records above $4 nationally, the U.S. average didn’t climb above $3.50 until April 21, according to the Energy Department’s weekly survey of service stations. The $3.50 mark also was breached last year, but not until March 6.

This time, the dubious milestone was hit weeks before prices usually rise because of refineries typically shutting down for spring maintenance, and weeks before the prices rise again when states switch from less expensive winter blends of gasoline to more complicated and more expensive summer blends.

The dip in local prices is “a nice trend given most of the eastern states have seen prices go up about 40 cents a gallon since the beginning of the year,” said Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst for Gasbuddy.com, which operates DaytonGasPrices.com and similar websites across the country. “But, I would caution that the trend in Ohio is probably not likely to continue. Everything goes up in the spring.”

The anticipated rise coincides with the annual switch from less expensive winter blends of gasoline to more complicated and expensive summer blends. The change is mandated by pollution-fighting regulations.

Gasbuddy.com is predicting that gas prices in the Columbus area will eventually rise to between $4.20 to $4.55 a gallon as Memorial Day weekend approaches, Laskoski said. He did not have a prediction for the Dayton area.

Ohio and other states in the Great Lakes region have a history of gasoline prices decreasing and then spiking back up overnight, according to Laskoski.

“There’s a chance that the U.S. average tops $4 a gallon by June, with some parts of the country approaching $5 a gallon,” said Brian L. Milne, refined-fuels editor for Telvent DTN, a commodity information services firm.

Meanwhile, Ohio gasoline consumers are enjoying a “very nice statistical anomaly,” Laskoski said.

There are plenty of reasons for the high prices, and lots of reasons to expect a big price surge in the spring, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Service.

“Early February crude oil prices are higher than they’ve ever been on similar calendar dates through the years, and the price of crude sets the standard for gasoline prices,” Kloza said.

In addition, several refineries have been mothballed in recent months, he said, and some of those refineries “represented the key to a smooth spring transition from winter-to-spring gasoline.” The annual change in gasoline formulas is mandated by pollution-fighting regulations.

Some cities, including Los Angeles and New York, already are closing in on $4 a gallon, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report. Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2414 or kelli.wynn@coxinc.com.

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