HOUSTON — U.S. motorists paid record high prices for gasoline in 2012, as severe weather and political tensions drove up the cost of fuel.
The national average price of gasoline in 2012 was $3.60 a gallon, nine cents more than the previous annual record set last year, said Heathrow, Fla.-based AAA, the nation’s largest motoring group.
Prices touched $3.94 a gallon on April 5 and 6 after crude oil rallied as the United States and European nations imposed an embargo on Iranian oil exports to pressure the Persian Gulf nation over its nuclear program. Prices sank as low as $3.22 a gallon on Dec. 20 amid lower demand and higher supply in winter, when motor fuel faces looser emissions regulations.
“Factors as volatile as major hurricanes, refinery outages and tension in the Middle East resulted in significant frustration for people filling up their cars,” Avery Ash, a spokesman for AAA, said in an emailed statement.
Hawaii, Alaska and California were the three most expensive states, while South Carolina, Missouri and Mississippi were the cheapest.
Gasoline prices will probably drop next year than in 2012 because of increased domestic crude production and lower motor- fuel demand, Ash said.
The U.S. produced 6.98 million barrels of oil a day in the week ended Dec. 21, the most since March 1993, according to Energy Department data. Drillers in states such as North Dakota and Texas have spurred the output growth with increased use of methods such as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
The four-week average for gasoline demand the week ended Dec. 21 was 3.3 percent below a year earlier, MasterCard Inc. said last week. Year-to-date fuel consumption is 3.6 percent below the same period in 2011. The information is based on credit-card swipes and cash and check payments at about 140,000 U.S. gasoline stations.
If Congress fails to reach a budget deal, the economy could fall into a recession, further depressing price forecasts for next year, Ash said.