Fuel analysts say the usual post-Labor Day drop in gasoline prices hasn't materialized because of turmoil in the Middle East.
“Once the situation in Syria cools down, we can expect gas prices will probably contract as well,” said Patrick DeHaan, a senior analyst for Gasbuddy.com. “So far, the situation there is preventing the usual decrease.”
The average price of a gallon of unleaded regular gas in Nebraska on Tuesday was $3.68, about 10 cents more than last week, according to AAA.
In Omaha, the average price for regular was $3.66 a gallon. Lincoln's average price of $3.73 a gallon topped all Nebraska metropolitan areas.
Crude oil prices and gas futures are rising on fears that the U.S. could strike Syria in response to chemical weapons attacks on civilians. DeHaan said escalating tensions sent crude oil prices to $108 a barrel, up from $106.
For a short time, crude oil climbed to a 52-week high, trading above $110 a barrel, he said. Prices have retreated, but wide swings in the crude oil market are expected.
“Looking at the bigger picture, I don't foresee going over $125 a barrel unless something new and shocking takes place in the Middle East,” DeHaan said. “Syria isn't a major producer of oil, but there could be a spill-over effect to other countries like Egypt, as well as the Suez Canal.”
Rose White, a spokeswoman for Nebraska AAA, said about one-third of the world's petroleum is shipped through the Suez Canal in Egypt. She said for every $10 increase in crude oil prices, motorists can expect to see a jump of 20 to 40 cents at the pump.
U.S. consumers will be somewhat insulated by several trends, she said. Fewer barrels of crude are being shipped from the Middle East to the U.S., largely because of the oil boom in North Dakota. Oil production in North Dakota has climbed to more than 820,000 barrels a day, making it the second-largest oil producing state in the country.
“Also, fuel consumption is down in the U.S. due to more fuel-efficient vehicles,” White said. “The most recent inventory report released by the Energy Information Administration shows processed fuel supplies in the U.S. are up 8 percent compared to last year.”
DeHaan predicted that any big spikes at the pump would be short-lived because rising prices inevitably lead to a slowdown in demand.
“We certainly caught a break with this situation in the Middle East occurring after the summer driving season,” he said. “If this had happened during the spring, we would have seen gas prices really soar.”