Drivers can expect to pay $4 a gallon for gas sooner rather than later.
The average price of a gallon of gasoline in Erie is now $3.94, or 20 cents per gallon higher than it was a week ago, according to the American Automobile Association.
By way of comparison, GasBuddy.com reports that gasoline prices in the Conneaut, Ohio right now range between a low of $3.34 per gallon and $3.64 per gallon.
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On the brink of $4
As of noon on Friday, several Erie area gas stations, including Shell at 8024 Peach St., Sheetz at 8180 Perry Highway and CITGO at 5838 Wattsburg Road increased the price per gallon to $3.99, according to GasBuddy, which compiles data from more than 11 million weekly price reports covering roughly 150,000 gas stations across the United States.
At the beginning of February, Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, predicted gas prices would rise to $4 a gallon by Memorial Day, but as the Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifies, he now predicts U.S. drivers could pay $4 a gallon by the end of March.
"There’s been a lot of escalation in terms of the West of how it’s responding to the situation in Russia and it has sped up the chance of four dollars a gallon," De Haan said.
A new report from AAA on Friday, however, indicates that the threshold already has been met in Pennsylvania, which typically has some of the nation's highest gas prices.
In Pennsylvania, the average price per gallon is now $4 compared to an average of $2.96 last year, according to AAA. That means, at current prices, Pennsylvania motorists are paying about 35% more on gas than they were one year ago.
De Haan said, the increased price of gas might lead to more interest in electric vehicles, but for most Americans, "those are beyond their reach," he said.
"But I’m sure there will still be more interest and certainly we can see some conversion happening," he said.
How higher gas prices will affect you
De Haan expects the price of gas to affect American families in different ways.
"It’s going to hit lower-income families disproportionately," he said. "Four dollars a gallon is certainly one of those sticking points that we haven’t seen nationwide since 2008. I really think it’s going to sting."
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While De Haan thinks some people will choose to fill up less frequently, the majority of Americans won't be discouraged to continue fueling up as the summer travel season approaches.
"I don’t think many Americans will be swayed to slow down consumption just for the simple reason that the economy is strengthened after the pandemic," De Haan said. "Some households might find it more difficult, but I don’t think the higher prices are going to convince many people to cut back on their travel plans."
How to get better mileage
There are several ways to improve your gas mileage, according to AAA.
Reducing highway speeds by 5 to 10 mph can increase fuel economy 7% to 14%.
Avoid rapid acceleration and hard braking, which can lower fuel economy by 15% to 30% at highway speeds and 10% to 40% in stop-and-go traffic.
Use cruise control. Driving at a consistent speed on the highway saves gas.
In cold temperatures, don't sit an idle your engine to warm it up. Drive the car normally, which brings the engine to operating temperature more rapidly and thus, saves gas.
What's 'winter gas'?
Driving efficiently could come in handy as U.S. oil refineries transition from winter gas to summer gas.
In winter, gasoline blends have a higher Reid vapor pressure, meaning they evaporate more easily and allow gasoline to ignite more easily to start a car in cold temperatures. Refiners reduce the chance of gas evaporation in your car during the summer by producing gasoline blends that have lower RVP, according to GasBuddy.
"We are just around the corner from the summer driving season, where we normally see prices go up because demand goes up," said Lynda Lambert, media spokesperson and safety advisor for AAA. "And then you factor in the switch to summer-blend fuel, which is a little more expensive."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines April to June as the “transition season” for fuel production. Summer-blend fuel adds as much as 15 cents per gallon to the cost to produce these higher-grade fuels, according to NACS, the leading global trade association dedicated to advancing convenience and fuel retailing.
Lambert is confident gas prices will continue to rise, but how high is "hard to say."
"Russia exports 5 million barrels of crude oil per day. That’s 12% of the global supply," Lambert said. "So whatever is happening there will have a significant impact on oil prices and consequently on gasoline prices because crude oil accounts for 50% to 60% of the cost of a gallon of gas."
Averages, and historic high
Here's a list of some of recent gas price averages, and the historic high for the Erie region, as of Friday:
Friday average: $3.941
Thursday average: $3.856
Week ago average: $3.741
Month ago average: $3.575
Year ago average: $2.988
Highest ever: $4.069 on July 1, 2008
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Gas prices could rise to $4 a gallon in Erie County, nationwide