Regular gasoline jumped to more than $3 a gallon on Long Island Sunday for the first time since December, the AAA reported, in what is largely a seasonal increase that might be close to the peak for this summer.
Regular-grade gas averaged $3.005 a gallon Sunday morning, up from $2.996 on Saturday, the motorist group said. Monday's average, $3.004, represented an increase of nine cents from a month earlier. A year earlier, the Nassau-Suffolk average was $3.953. Regular gas last averaged above $3 on Long Island on Dec. 12.
The recent increases are largely due to higher demand as improving weather and the start of vacation season have encouraged discretionary driving, said Tom Kloza, an analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, New Jersey, owner of the website GasBuddy.com.
"We're probably within a nickel of the peak price for this year," he said, barring unforeseen events such as a surge in crude oil prices from an international crisis or major refinery issues. "July and August are the peak periods."
Gasoline prices typically rise in the spring as refineries switch to more-expensive-to-produce spring- and summer-grade gasolines required by clean-air laws.
Some experts have cited an improving jobs picture as one factor in that rise, suggesting that more people are commuting by auto to work.
Further, demand for gasoline nationally is running about 3 percent higher than last year, said the U.S. Department of Energy, in part, experts say, due to lower prices.
American drivers burn a total of about 9 million barrels a day of gasoline -- a barrel is 42 U.S. gallons -- but, while the average in February was 8.65 million barrels a day, the figures for July and August are likely to be about 9.3 million barrels a day, Kloza estimates.
Pump prices nationally had been declining since July on factors including huge increases in U.S. onshore crude oil production from new methods such as hydraulic fracturing, a softening of demand from slowing international economies, and a refusal by Saudi Arabia to cut output even in the face of a world glut of crude. The benchmark grade of U.S. crude oil collapsed last year from a high of $107.95 a barrel on June 20 to a recent low of $43.39 a barrel on March 17.
The Long Island average for gasoline dropped from last year's high of $4.036 a gallon on July 2 to a recent low of $2.348 on Feb. 2.
Since then, crude prices have been on the rise, trading now at about $60 a barrel, supported by several instances of international turmoil plus a slowdown in drilling activity in U.S., the latter portending a decline in production.
Gasoline prices have followed crude up, with Monday's average for regular representing a 65.6 cent-a-gallon increase from February's low.
The AAA gasoline survey is based on the lowest price available at stations that charge less for cash than credit card purchases.
The record high Long Island average in the AAA survey was $4.34 a gallon -- set in July 2008.