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Summer gas prices will be up 6.3 percent over 2011, Energy Department forecasts

By Nancy Rivera Brooks, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES—Although gas prices have been easing lately, the Energy Department has predicted that U.S. motorists will be shelling out an average of 24 cents a gallon more for gasoline during the peak summer driving season, defined as April through September.

Peak prices will average $3.95 for a gallon of regular gasoline, up 6.3 percent, or 24 cents, from last year’s April-September driving season, according to the agency’s monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook. That represents an increase from last month’s peak season prediction of a $3.295 average.

The highest monthly average is expected to be $4.01 in May, the agency said, putting the chance of a $4 average in June at 40 percent.

Gasoline prices will vary widely by region, with the West Coast leading the way at an average of $4.20 for the peak season.

Gasoline prices have been rising primarily because crude oil prices are up, but refinery closures in the Northeast are contributing, the Energy Department said.

All of this pump-price pain is expected to reduce gasoline consumption by 0.5 percent this summer compared with last summer, according to the forecast.

For the year, gasoline is projected to average $3.87 a gallon, implying an average annual household expenditure of $3,410, up $250 from 2011, the Energy Department said.

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