Brace yourselves . . . Houston gas prices could be on the verge of breaking record levels this spring.
According to online fuel reporting group GasBuddy, averages for Monday are at $3.84 — up 31 cents from this time a month ago and up 6.5 cents since last Monday, March 19. At the moment, the city is only about dime away from reaching the $3.94 all-time high that GasBuddy recorded in July 2008.
As political instability in the Middle East keeps crude oil prices above $100 a barrel, normal springtime spikes in fuel could easily bump Houston into record-setting territory.
"Prices go up like clockwork at this time ," petroleum analyst Gregg Laskoski said. "Federal regulations call for additives that allow gas to burn cleaner during the summer . . . The extra cost is passed onto the consumer."
CultureMap talked to GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst Gregg Laskoski to get a clearer picture on the expected increases.
"Prices go up like clockwork at this time every year," Laskoski said. "Federal regulations call for additives that allow gas to burn cleaner during the summer when demand is at its highest."
Each spring, he says, United States refineries simultaneously halt operations to flush out dirtier winter blends and alter operations to create lower-emission summer blends.
"All 150 refineries across the country do this at the same time," Laskoski continued, noting that these temporary closures are often used for maintenance as well. "The extra cost is passed onto the consumer."
While Houston remains vulnerable to hurricanes throughout the late summer and fall, the area's high number of refineries generally keeps spring upticks lower than the rest of the nation.
Using data collected over the past seven years, Laskoski forecasts that national average will reach a high of $4.18 at some point in 2012. But as tensions continue between Iran and Israel, all bets are off. The specter of $5 and even $6 gas is still very much in play.
"What's significant this year is the presidential election and the threat of war in the Middle East," he said, feeling that if anything happens before the November elections, Barack Obama will join Israel in military involvement.
"Until we know the answer about what will happen in the Middle East," Laskoski said, "we simply cannot expect prices of crude to come down."
For now, we can expect prices to rise in the spring. Any drastic increases beyond that will depend on global politics.