WASHINGTON – Average Maryland gasoline prices reached a record high of $1.73 per gallon of regular unleaded Friday and experts predict increases of 5 to 7 cents in the next few weeks.
Friday’s high broke a record that had been set only days before, when the average price of a gallon of regular reached $1.72 on Tuesday, according to a survey AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The increases in Maryland mirrored national rates, which set new highs of $1.74 per gallon Tuesday and $1.75 on Friday, said AAA spokesman John White.
Across the state, prices for regular gas ranged from $1.61 to $1.89 per gallon Friday, according to MarylandGasPrices.com, a Web site recommended by the Department of Energy that lists the stations with the lowest and highest prices in the state each day.
Gas station workers said people may “grumble” at the price — but that sales have not decreased significantly.
“They hate it,” said Jay Berkuy, the cashier at Cindy’s Country Store in Denton. “They say that’s too much.”
But while some people are upset, Shelby Pierce, the manager of Aspen Hill Shell in Montgomery County, said ” the vast majority look at it and maybe grumble, but have to buy it.”
In other cases, consumers try to shop around before filling up their tank.
“They say it’s too high, I’m going to the other,” said Lilia Sanchez, of All Saints Exxon in Laurel.
Last time Maryland had prices near this level was Memorial Day 2001, when the average price was $1.71 a gallon. Nationally, the old record was $1.73, set around the 2003 Labor Day holiday.
The steady increases through the first months of this year had been predicted by the Energy Information Administration — which says consumers should expect to see increases of at least 5 to 7 cents a gallon in the next few weeks.
“For the next month prices will rise . . . and then begin to turn down at the end of April,” said Jacob Bournazian, the EIA’s retail prices expert.
White said these increases are a big concern because they are putting a strain on business and family budgets.
“As gas prices go up, we don’t all get raises in our jobs at the same time, so it puts pressure on our budgets,” he said. “It makes you plan ahead, consolidate trips or think how far you can travel.”
Bournazian said 2003 and 2004 have been different from previous years because gas inventories dropped below their five-year averages while demand grew. That, combined with typical factors such as industry preparation for the driving season in the summer, has made prices more volatile.
White also cited the recent terrorist bombing in Spain, “which sparked fears of terrorists sabotaging oil pipelines,” and the producer countries’ decision to cut crude production, among others.
AAA’s recommendations are for consumers to shop around, use regular unleaded gas — unless the car’s manual indicates otherwise — and consider buying more fuel-efficient vehicles.
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