Gas prices creep up, but still well below 2008 costs

Posted May 10, 2009, at 8:32 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Just in time for Maine’s lucrative tourist season, gas prices are inching up, although industry experts predict prices will remain much lower than at any point last spring, summer or fall.

According to AAA, the average price of regular unleaded gasoline is $2.23 a gallon, up from $2.07 a month ago but down from $3.67 at this time last year.

Since peaking around $4.14 last July, prices fell steadily through December in Maine. After several weeks of less than $2-a-gallon gas, the average has started to creep back up.

According to the Web site, which relies on spotters to report prices, the lowest prices this weekend were $2.11 at a Mobil station in Cumberland and $2.12 at Perry’s Qwik Stop in Belfast.

College students Mira Swinson and Jacob Troll said gas prices were not a concern as they celebrated the end of the school year with a road trip Saturday from New Hampshire. After biking and sightseeing in Acadia National Park, they stopped late Saturday afternoon for dinner at Jordan’s Snack Bar in Ellsworth.

“I doubt we would have done this last year,” Swinson said of the impromptu getaway. “But we’ve kind of exhausted all the cool places around where we are. It was good to get in the car and drive.”

Added Troll: “I don’t think we were concerned about gas prices for this particular trip.”

Jack Fowler took advantage of decent weather Saturday to ride his motorcycle from Addison to Ellsworth.

“I’ve only ridden a little, never very far,” he said. “If I feel ambitious later in the year, I’m going to plan a long trip. We’ll see what the gas prices are like then.”

Jamie Py with the Maine Oil Dealers Association said recently that gas prices always spike a little in anticipation of the summer months, but he also said rising crude oil prices are playing a role. Crude peaked at about $140 a barrel last summer. The barrel price now is about $55, although that has climbed since bottoming out last November.

Where the numbers go from here remains a matter of speculation, but according to the federal Energy Information Administration, gas prices nationally are expected to remain about $1.50 less per gallon this summer than last.

In Maine that could mean prices as high as around $2.60 a gallon, figuring from the peak of around $4.14 last July. The agency expects that retail prices are likely to average about $2.23 a gallon nationally during the summer season, which the agency says is April 1 to Sept. 20.

However, the EIA also cautioned that prices are volatile. While the average might bear out over the six-month period, prices still could fluctuate considerably. For instance, if consumption increases, it likely will push the numbers higher.