Analysts: Gas prices may have peaked

Gasoline prices, which have vexed President Obama politically in recent months, may have reached their peak, according to energy analysts.

Prices at the pump reached nearly $3.94 last Friday, the highest point this year, according to AAA. But prices have decreased slightly over the last five days, reversing increases that began in December of last year.

Analysts say prices could continue to decline.

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“What this could potentially mean for motorists is that prices could take a bit of a breather or they might fall,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at gasbuddy.com.

“Traditionally, every spring we see prices rise like this,” DeHaan added. “They tend to peak in late spring.”

Ben Brockwell, director of data and pricing at the Oil Price Information Service, said gasoline prices have decreased more in the last five days than any time during the past year.

Based on the average increase during the first three months of the year, gasoline prices should have hit a national average of $4 a gallon on Tuesday, according to Brockwell’s early projections.

“But the trend is certainly reversing nationally,” he said, blaming the change on a "shift in psychology" in the oil futures markets. “It’s reasonable to think that prices have peaked for the summer.”

But Brockwell warned that unforeseen events like increased tensions in Iran could cause gasoline prices to spike again.

“The reality is, we’re only one event from prices going back up,” he said.

Declining gasoline prices would be welcome news for the president, who has faced sustained and aggressive political attacks from Republicans over the issue.

But a report released Tuesday by the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggests that the president may not want to get his hopes up that prices will tumble just yet.
 
“During the April-through-September summer driving season this year, regular gasoline retail prices are forecast to average about $3.95 per gallon, peaking in May at a monthly average price of $4.01 per gallon,” the monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook says.

The GOP, hoping to inflict political damage on Obama going into the election, has sought to put the blame for high gasoline prices squarely on the president’s shoulders. They’ve blasted Obama’s energy policies, arguing he has not done enough to expand domestic oil-and-gas production.

The White House, keenly aware of polls that show high prices could take a political toll on the president, has sought to undercut the GOP attacks. The president has given a slew of energy speeches in recent weeks in which he stresses that there are no-quick fixes to gasoline prices, while stressing his administration’s efforts to expand drilling.

He has also highlighted his “all-of-the-above” energy plan, which involves expanding drilling, increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and investing in renewables, among other things.

Energy experts say federal policymakers have little control over high gasoline prices because they are tethered to oil prices, which are set on world markets. Even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil-and-gas leasing would have little effect on prices, they say.

Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, told The Hill last month that, despite all of the politics surrounding gas prices, the 2012 spike is part of a “natural rhythm” that occurs annually.

“It’s an election year, so it’s getting a lot more attention,” Kloza noted.

He said gasoline prices usually increase and hit their peak in the spring only to decrease and reach their lowest point in November, just in time for the election.

“It absolutely has nothing to do with politics, but the first week of November is election week,” Kloza said.

But gasoline prices have defied seasonal trends in recent years. While average nationwide prices peaked at nearly $4 per gallon in May 2011, in 2010 prices topped out at just over $3 per gallon in late December, and 2009 saw its highest prices in the fall, according to Energy Information Administration data.

Ben Geman contributed to this story.