Gas prices close in on $5 a gallon in United States   | News

DALLAS (AP) — The average price Americans pay for gasoline is approaching $5 a gallon, another drain on the wallets of consumers who also pay more for many other essentials.

AAA said the national average for regular Thursday was $4.97 a gallon, up a quarter from last week and $1.90 more than drivers were paying a year ago.

GasBuddy, a service that helps drivers find gas deals, said the average was over $5 for the first time ever.

Prices at the pump have been rising steadily for months, surpassing the $4 mark in early March. They track the cost of crude oil, which was rising even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove up the price of oil even further.

Shortage fears are compounded by demand, which typically picks up around Memorial Day in late May – the unofficial start of summer and holiday travel in the US

California has the highest average price, at $6.40 per gallon, according to AAA. Several other western states and Illinois are above $5.50.

The lowest average is in Georgia at $4.41.

While the $5 mark is new, Americans paid more for gasoline in July 2008 when inflation is taken into account. The high of $4.11 per gallon would then equal around $5.40 per gallon today.

Americans aren’t the only ones paying more for gas. This week, petrol prices in the UK hit a record high of 182.3 pence ($2.30) per litre, or around $8.80 per gallon.

Analysts expect prices to keep rising until they get so high that demand plummets – no one knows exactly when or where that might happen. In the meantime, any unplanned refinery shutdowns — for example, following a hurricane along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana — could send prices skyrocketing.

“I’m afraid we’re not quite there yet,” said GasBuddy analyst Patrick De Haan. “We have very little room for error this summer. We need every barrel of refining capacity we can get.”

The pandemic has led to refinery shutdowns that have slashed U.S. refining capacity by about 800,000 barrels a day since the start of 2020, government figures show. This has caused the remaining refiners to work hard to meet the growing demand.

Refiners have been reluctant to invest in new facilities as the transition to electric vehicles casts doubt on the long-term demand for gasoline. The owner of one of the nation’s largest refineries, in Houston, announced in April that he would close the facility by the end of next year.

Pump prices are rising just as consumers try to keep up with the inflation in the cost of food, housing, cars, plane tickets and other needs and wants. Consumer prices in the United States in April were 8.3% higher than a year ago, only slightly above March inflation, which was the highest since 1981 The May figures are expected to be released on Friday.

On both sides of the Atlantic, pressure is mounting on governments to do something to help motorists.

In Washington last month, House Democrats voted for a bill to crack down on what they called price gouging by oil companies, but Republican opposition made Senate approval unlikely. This week in the UK, the chairman of the AA car association said the prices are “crippling the lives of low-income people, rural areas and businesses”, and that the government must intervene.

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