GasBuddy: Gas prices could hit $3 by May

Pump prices soon will begin to rise, according to GasBuddy.

Enjoy $2 gasoline while it's here.

Fuel price gauger GasBuddy projects the average national price for a gallon of regular gasoline will rise to $3 by May before fluctuating up and down during the summer and settling at about $2.39 in December.

That's the latest forecast put together by GasBuddy if current market conditions persist.

Given the outlook, Americans are paying the lowest gas prices of the year right now. The national average is now $2.19 a gallon.

GasBuddy projects that will rise to $2.64 during 2015, and while higher than current prices, the overall lower cost than last year will save Americans $97 billion.

Unforeseen events around the globe during the year such as wars, hurricanes and a sudden change of mind by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to decrease output could dramatically change the forecast, according to Patrick DeHaan, a petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.

Prices generally rise during the spring as refineries shift back to environmentally mandated cleaner-burning gas for the summer driving season. That usually results in spikes of 35 cents to 75 cents per gallon.

Another factor that could result in price hikes is a rise in gas taxes. Several states are considering raising the gasoline tax. In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley has promised to veto any increase, though some groups are lobbying for a hike to improve the state's roads.

The current tax in the Palmetto State is 16 cents per gallon, among the lowest in the nation.

The average price for a gallon of gas in South Carolina is $2.03, which is down $1.08 from a year ago and about 45 cents lower than a month ago.

The unknown is whether suppressed crude prices will suspend North American shale production and new drilling to drive up the cost of oil.

Overall, though, the price of gasoline should remain lower than in 2014.

"Toward the end of 2014, the market showed bountiful supply, strong production and not enough demand to suck up the inventory," said Allison Mac, a GasBuddy analyst. "Much of these factors will carry over into 2015. Overall, prices at the pump will be lower than they have been in recent years, and once again the $2 sign will become a familiar number to see on street corners."

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.