Cover Story: Gas prices rising

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - With Memorial Day a week away, all eyes are on gas prices.  You've probably noticed the jump over the last few weeks.  And we've learned they are headed higher.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson has been looking over the numbers and reports in our Cover Story.

Gasoline is up 25 cents a gallon in just the last three weeks.  In Charlotte on average we're paying 2-29 a gallon.  Across the state, 2-27.  In South Carolina.. the price is eleven cents lower at 2-16 per gallon.

What's behind the increase and how high are they expected to go this summer?

If you were to chart the price of gas going into Memorial Day, every single year since 2000 with one exception.. it's gone like this from February to May.. gone higher.

The good news for us this year.. gas hasn't been this cheap on Memorial Day since 2005.

The May family has taken notice.  Heading home to Murphy, North Carolina after a trip to the beach, they're traveling again since gas is cheaper.  But instead of eating out they're packing a picnic lunch.. to eat at the rest stop.

There wasn't much traveling last summer, says Carl May.  "We probably wouldn't be doing this because it just wasn't affordable. It's within the budget at these prices. If it's much higher.. you think more."

It's an annual rite of spring.  The flowers come out.. and the gas prices go up.

See what it's done since the first of this year, settling at about 2.33 in Charlotte right now.. up 25 cents in three weeks.

But it's not the worst spring runup we've seen.

Last year, 2008, gas went from 3-dollars a gallon in Feburary.. to 3.93 the end of May.

A year before, 2007, the price was 2.15 in February.. had jumped to 3.09 by the end of May.

Brendan Byrnes is with Triple A Carolinas.  He says, "The trend always goes higher this time of year.."

He says springtime refineries cut production to retool for the cleaner gasoline blends they're required to produce in the summer.

The combination of cutting supply.. and demand going up.. fuels a rise at the pump.  It didn't go higher this year because there weren't any serious hiccups during the switchover.

"Obviously demand this Memorial Day holiday will keep prices up. But there's a good potential that it could come down a couple of cents after that," says Byrnes.

Driving is down because of the recession.. demand for oil is at the lowest it's been since May 1999.

Which means, the experts say.. don't look for gas to go any higher than 2.50 a gallon this summer.

The federal government's Energy Information Administration predicts from April to September.. the summer driving season.. overall average gas price will be 2.23 a gallon.

It's making a road trip more attractive.. and affordable.  In North Carolina, Triple A expects trips by car over Memorial Day weekend to be up 5-percent over last year.

"We think you can travel without breaking the bank."

Oil companies and refineries are nervous.. how high can they let the price go.. before people curb their driving and that causes prices to fall abrupty.

With gas having gone to $4 a gallon last year.. we seem to be more cognizant of run-ups now.

Demand for oil is down.. can we assume that inventories are higher than usual?  They are.. and the experts say that's good for us.

If there's a hurricane or any other major disruption.. we shouldn't see a shoot up in price like we've seen in the past.. because inventories are higher than they have been.