How high will gas prices go?

Jim Grant/Nevada AppealAlex Avakian fills up his tank at the Shell station on Tuesday afternoon. The average price per gallon in Carson City according to AAA is $3.22.

Jim Grant/Nevada AppealAlex Avakian fills up his tank at the Shell station on Tuesday afternoon. The average price per gallon in Carson City according to AAA is $3.22.

Nevada gas prices rose a fifth consecutive month in February, with the average price per gallon of regular now $3.22 in Carson City - a nine-cent increase from last month.

The upward trend is gaining momentum, according to AAA Nevada, which tracks monthly fuel prices. The average cost of regular unleaded gasoline in Nevada is $3.16. Last year at this time it was $2.80.

For Jennifer Dalton, 33, who drives a tiny, fuel-efficient hybrid, rising prices at the pump are starting to concern her.

"I think they're going to go up as long as they can in little increments," said Dalton, who fills her tank once a week because of a long commute.

Nevada's two largest cities, Las Vegas and Reno, now have average gas prices of $3.12 and $3.27 a gallon respectively, both up from last month. The national average is $3.12 for regular, with 36 states averaging more than $3 a gallon, according to AAA Nevada.

Meanwhile, the political turmoil in Egypt, though not a large exporter of oil, has affected the global energy market. But AAA Nevada spokesman Michael Geeser said analysts' concerns over the region are easing.

"Most analysts believe that, while the conditions still warrant attention, speculation has eased that the situation might degrade further," Geeser said. "Unfortunately, that hasn't translated to lower gas prices at the pump."

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the average cost for a barrel of oil will be $93 this year, increasing to $97 in 2012. The national average price for a gallon of regular gas also is expected to be $3.15 this year and $3.30 next year.

However, Nevadans should not expect a dramatic increase in fuel costs this year like summer 2008, when the average price was more than $4 a gallon, said Elliott Parker, chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Nevada, Reno. Still, that doesn't mean the trend of rising oil prices will cease anytime soon - if ever.

While the financial crash in late 2008 and the recession put a halt to the upward pressure on oil prices, it did not quash the rising demand for fuel in emerging markets such as China and India.

As a result, "We're back on that same trend," Parker said. "We still have a fundamental problem in the world: We don't have a whole lot of new petroleum sourcing coming online and we have increasing demand for it."

Another factor is the relative value of the U.S. dollar, which is used to measure the price of oil. When the dollar is strong, oil is cheaper as investors are less likely to put their money into commodities such as oil.

And while unpredictable events such as speculative bubbles and refinery disruptions may happen again, the specter of $4 a gallon gas may remain a thing of the past - at least for now, Parker said.

Nevada is tied for the 15th highest gas price in the country, excluding Hawaii and Alaska, according to the AAA. California has the highest average price in the continental United States at $3.41 per gallon.

The lowest price is in Casper, Wyo., at $2.68 per gallon and the highest is Wailuku, Hawaii at $4.01 per gallon.


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