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Houston gas prices higher, drivers gird loins for annual Spring Break spike

Houston gasoline prices are slowly drifting upward as the end of winter looms.
Houston gasoline prices are slowly drifting upward as the end of winter looms.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After a month of declining gasoline prices, mid-February found Houston drivers digging more deeply in their pockets once again as the average pump price spiked by almost a dime. The rise slowed, but still continues. As of February 26, the average price for self-serve regular, as reported by local price-spotters at GasBuddy.com, sits at a tick over $3.16 per gallon, up 3/10 of a cent since yesterday. That compares unfavorably with the price a month ago, which was just $3.069; but is considerably better than the $3.616 average on this day in 2013.

Industry analysts say that prices usually climb at the end of winter because that's when refineries schedule routine maintenance because of low demand. It's also when refiners begin the switch to the more expensive summer blends needed to cut back on ozone formation during the hot months. Right now, refiners are selling off surplus winter formulation, which means lower supplies; and lower supplies usually means higher prices.

Houston's average price is about 26 cents below the national average of $3.425, and about a nickel below the Texas average of $3.218. Prices for diesel in the Houston area have held steady for months in the range of $3.59 to $3.60/gallon.

Crude oil prices have held relatively steady for the past week at around $102 per barrel for North American benchmark crude, West Texas Intermediate. That price has been steadily rising since a mid-December low of around $96/bbl. Today's price of European Brent Crude is flirting with $110 per barrel, up between five and six dollars during February.

GasBuddy.com's Texas members report that the statewide average price is also rising, though; near the bottom of a nationwide range from $3.143 in South Carolina to $4.047 in Hawaii. Amarillo and Laredo have the lowest prices among Texas metropolitan areas in the GasBuddy survey at just $3.139 per gallon, while El Paso is holding down the highest-price spot at $3.272. Cities in the midcontinent and the southern Atlantic seaboard have the lowest prices in the country, with prices in Spartanburg at $3.10 per gallon and falling.

This week's booby prize for high prices highest average prices goes to the usual west-coast cities. Californians are paying an average of $3.80 per gallon, topped by Los Angeles at $3.886 and Ventura at $3.872. Chicago drivers are have the highest prices for a non-coastal city at are $37785 per gallon for self-serve regular. Honolulu, as usual, is the "winner" of the highest prices at $3.961. The residents of Green bay and Appleton Wisconsin are paying closest to the national average, about $3.430 per gallon, to fill their tanks.