Analysts predict that consumers will begin buying bigger vehicles through...

Analysts predict that consumers will begin buying bigger vehicles through 2015 as gas prices decline. This fuel was getting pumped on Dec. 11, 2013. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Long Island gasoline prices have risen by almost 18 cents a gallon since early February on higher crude oil prices and tightened gas supplies from a variety of factors.

And analysts expect gas prices to continue their usual rise in the spring and summer.

Meanwhile, heating oil has backed off a few cents from its winter record of $4.47 a gallon set Feb. 2, to $4.406 Monday, the state Energy Research and Development Authority said.

Regular gasoline averaged $3.779 a gallon in Nassau and Suffolk Wednesday, the AAA said, up from the recent low of $3.60 a gallon Feb. 3, as bad weather reduced driving and demand for gasoline.

The new average is, however, 21 cents a gallon below a year earlier.

The U.S. benchmark grade of crude oil had risen from $96.44 a barrel on Feb. 3 to a recent high of $105.22 on March 3, though it fell $2.04 Wednesday to $97.99, on word from the U.S. Department of Energy that supplies of crude rose more than expected last week.

Tom Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group Ltd. of Jupiter, Fla., attributed the gasoline and heating oil price increases partly to a reduction of imports from Venezuela, as infrastructure there crumbles.

Other factors in gasoline's rise, he said, include reduced imports from Europe and the changeover underway now at refineries from production of heating oil and winter gasoline to production of summer gasoline, which is more expensive to make.

Finlon thinks U.S. gasoline prices this summer could set new records. For Long Island, the record high average for regular was $4.346 a gallon, set July 8, 2008, the AAA said.

But editor Stephen Schork of The Schork Report energy newsletter doubts that local prices will exceed last summer's peak average of $4.012 for regular on July 23. "We're looking at a very comfortable situation with regard to supply," he said.

The AAA survey is based on the lowest price available at stations that charge less for cash than credit card purchases.Heating oil has risen by almost 41 cents a gallon since Nov. 11, the state said, exacerbated by below-average temperatures in January and February.Local heating oil retailers have attributed much of the price increase to demand from natural gas users called "interruptibles," who agree in return for cheaper gas to switch to heating oil at utilities' request when gas supplies run low.

January averaged 2.9 degrees lower than normal and February was 3.1 degrees below normal, the National Weather Service said.

Interruptibles include industrial complexes, public schools, universities, hospitals, nursing homes, and government and apartment buildings.

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