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January gas prices in Atlanta highest in five years (and likely going up)


Atlanta gas prices generally slide through the winter, falling to their yearly lows when the weather is cold and people are driving the least.

Not this time.

Instead, the price of fossil fuel mobility is the highest it has been in January since 2013. The average price for regular gasoline in metro Atlanta on Wednesday was $2.46 a gallon, 24 cents higher than a year ago, according to GasBuddy, which tracks prices nationally.

The break with historical trends is widespread with every part of the country seeing higher prices.

Atlanta’s tab for gasoline has risen 18 cents a gallon in Atlanta in the past month.

Worse, it could become even more expensive soon – that is, if the market does revert to form, said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

Refineries need to shut down for annual maintenance while they also switch over to blends of gas used in the summer – and prices reflect the dip in supplies, he said. “Usually we get a 35 to 75 cent per gallon jump from winter to spring.”

That could mean $3 a gallon gas by Memorial Day.

Then again, that’s already the top of the range in this region. Most expensive gas, said GasBuddy, was available at a Chevron station in Atlanta selling regular at $3.09 a gallon.

VIDEO: Previous coverage on this issue

The high-to-low spread has been higher than usual. And the cheapest gas Wednesday – also a Chevron, as it happens – could be had in Snellville for $2.17 a gallon.

The engine of the higher prices is oil – the prime ingredient of gasoline.

The world oil market has seen prices slowly rising for two years. In mid-winter 2016, the price of West Texas Intermediate – the benchmark for U.S. oil – dipped below $30 a barrel. On Wednesday, it was trading at nearly $65 a barrel.

The reasons for the oil spike are varied: Venezuela’s oil industry – like that nation’s economy — is a mess. Production is also down at other members of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries – especially Saudi Arabia. Oil inventories in the United States have been lower than usual.

Analysts think prices might have peaked.

But a leveling of oil prices might not mean a decline in gasoline, DeHaan said. “Even if oil fell back to say, $55 a barrel, refinery maintenance and the summer switch would likely offset any potential drop.”

The upshot is that we’ll probably still get the usual late winter to spring price bump, he said. “I think we’ll see prices advance on the lower side of the 35 to 75 cent a gallon range, but even a 35 cent a gallon jump would push gas prices to territory not seen in years.”

Still, it’s not even close to record highs of more than $4 a gallon seen in the summer of 2008.

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AJC Business reporter Michael E. Kanell keeps you updated on the latest news about jobs, housing and consumer issues in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

 

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