Gas prices likely to dip this summer

Shortage could offset slight drop, though


WASHINGTON - Gasoline prices this summer will be only slightly cheaper than last year's but could increase significantly if there are supply shortages, the U.S. Energy Department said yesterday.

Prices are expected to average $1.49 per gallon for regular grade gasoline, only marginally higher than the national average of $1.46 and slightly lower than last summer's record-high average of $1.53, the Energy Information Administration said. The EIA is an independent statistical and analytical agency within the Energy Department.

The government is predicting that Americans will see the second-highest pump prices since 1981, although prices will be well below levels in Europe and Asia.

"Driving will be fairly expensive," Mark Rodekohr, division director of the EIA, said at a news media conference.

Rodekohr added that the government isn't forecasting extreme shortages. "We don't expect people to have to wait, lines at the pump, that kind of thing," he said.

But the EIA and other analysts have predicted that below-average supplies of gasoline going into the summer, the nation's peak travel period, could lead to isolated regional price spikes - especially if temperatures are unusually high or if fuel supply is interrupted.

The agency is predicting that shortages could crop up in the Midwest, the East Coast and Gulf Coast states, where gasoline stocks are lower than usual.

Asked about the EIA predictions, Geoff Sundstrom, a Heathrow, Fla.-based spokesman for the American Automobile Association, said, "Reading between the lines, what we don't know is if some parts of the country will have prices that are significantly higher than $1.50."

On the cusp of summer, gas prices are beginning to edge up in some parts of the country.

Sundstrom said prices in the Midwest have risen 10 cents per gallon in the past month and have gone up 3 cents in the Chicago area during the past week to $1.56. He predicted that the trend will continue.

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