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Gas prices could shoot up later this year, but it’s not clear how high they will go

January 7, 2019

Gas prices could be on the rise again soon, but estimates on how much depends on which expert you ask.

Fuel prices plummeted at the end of 2018, dropping nearly every day for three months. That reduced the national average by about 70 cents per gallon.

Between the end of 2017 and the end of 2018, prices declined by 39 cents in Nebraska and 44 cents in Iowa.

The average price for regular unleaded gas in Nebraska was $2.04 as of Sunday, about 20 cents below the national average, while Iowa’s average of $1.97 is about 27 cents cheaper than the national average.

But according to price-tracking service GasBuddy, gas prices will be on the rise this spring.

GasBuddy predicts that prices will rise due to an increase in demand for gasoline and projected production cuts by OPEC. The site estimates that the national average price will climb to $3 per gallon in May but will even out over the course of the year to about $2.70 per gallon, 3 cents cheaper than the 2018 annual average.

But take that prediction with a grain of salt.

“In some respects, putting an accurate forecast together for fuel prices in 2019 feels like playing darts blind and hoping for a bull’s-eye,” wrote Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. “Some of that feel comes from the White House playing an increasing role in volatility — you never know what President Trump might do or say to either cause a running of the bulls or bears.”

AAA is more optimistic and doesn’t put as much stock in the prospect of OPEC cuts.

“We’ll see if they hold true,” said Rose White, spokeswoman for AAA Nebraska. “Sometimes they have occurred, but sometimes they have not.”

White said AAA is bullish on continuing to see bargains at the pump, particularly in Nebraska and Iowa, due to high production rates in the U.S. and a regional buildup of inventory that helped push prices down this fall.

Denton Cinquegrana, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, said “it’s going to take some pretty extraordinary circumstances” to boost gas prices in Nebraska to $3 per gallon. States on the West Coast could see prices in excess of that, he said, but not Nebraska.

The price of a barrel of crude oil was about $48 on Friday, Cinquegrana noted. “I think we’ll get a move toward $50 in next couple of weeks,” he said, “but I don’t see much of a scenario where (West Texas Intermediate crude) gets much above $60 this year.” In order for gas prices to rise to $3 per gallon, he said, crude oil prices would have to go up to $70 to $75 a barrel.

Like DeHaan, Cinquegrana said President Donald Trump’s actions could affect what consumers will pay for gas.

“The president could do something that could cause havoc,” Cinquegrana said. “He’s probably the biggest wild card in 2019.”

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