Violence in Iraq is helping to make gasoline in the U.S. more expensive, depriving drivers of the usual price break between Memorial Day and July Fourth.
Global oil prices have risen 5 percent since an insurgency took over two Iraqi cities. Any sustained increase in oil and gasoline prices can dampen economic growth.
The average price of $3.68 per gallon is the highest price for this time of year since 2008, the year gasoline hit its all-time high. The good news is that gasoline is not likely to spike above $4 as it did six years ago, experts say. Or even cross $3.90, as in 2011 and 2012.
"You are going to pay a little more than we thought you were going to pay," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service and GasBuddy.com. "But you are not going to see any apocalyptic numbers."
South Carolina has the nation's lowest average price for regular gas: $3.39 a gallon, according to gasbuddy.com. AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge report put the average at $3.40 - and $3.46 for Charleston.
Gasoline prices typically fall in the weeks following Memorial Day, after supplies increase enough to fill up the cars of the nation's vacationers as summer approaches. Prices have declined during the previous three Junes, by an average of 21 cents per gallon, according to AAA.
This year, drivers in many cities are paying more. The U.S. average has risen every day for a week - with more increases sure to come. Higher fuel costs can reduce economic growth - in the U.S. and around the world - because they raise costs for businesses and leave drivers with less money to spend on other things.
In the U.S., a 10-cent rise in the price of gasoline costs a typical driver only an extra $1.50 to fill up a tank, but if that rise is sustained over a year, it costs the U.S. economy $13.5 billion. The average gas price so far this year, however, is still 5 cents cheaper than it was last year over the same period.
Even before the violence in Iraq, gasoline prices were falling more slowly than expected because of rising U.S. fuel demand and extensive maintenance at some Gulf Coast refineries that reduced output.
Then, last week, Iraqi insurgents seized a pair of cities and pledged to attack Baghdad. None of Iraq's oil fields were targeted and oil exports have continued to flow. But Iraq is OPEC's second-largest exporter, so concern that oil production might be impacted has been enough to send global oil prices up by $6, to around $115 per barrel.
The average price of gas rose 3 cents per gallon during the past week, and analysts expect more increases over the next couple of weeks.
Drivers in 15 states are already paying more for gas than they have since March 2013, according to Kloza. The U.S.average will likely soon surpass this year's high of $3.70 per gallon, set April 28.
Kloza thinks the national average may get close to last year's high of $3.79 per gallon, but he does not expect to see it reach the highs of 2011 and 2012, when it rose above $3.90 per gallon.
And the chances of the average crossing the $4 mark?
"The (last-place) Mets have a better chance of winning the World Series," he said.
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