Region sees gas prices heading up

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Local gas prices are slowly increasing and 19 cents per gallon higher than a year ago at this time. Pictured here is the Mobil gas station off Northwest Boulevard.

Local gas prices are slowly increasing and 19 cents per gallon higher than a year ago at this time.

However, the AAA travel agency doesn't believe costs will reach the infamous $3 mark over the holidays.

Coeur d'Alene has seen a 3-cent bump over the past week to average $2.58 per gallon, said Matthew Conde, AAA Idaho spokesman.

"In the aftermath of hurricane activity this fall, domestic fuel demand experienced a strong resurgence that has continued to chip away at U.S. inventory levels, pushing national pump prices higher," said Conde. "The Rockies region is often one of the last to react to national price movement and such is the case this time around."

Any further rise, however, should be contained within reason, Conde said.

"Under current market conditions, the state is not likely to reach $3 a gallon this winter," he said. "There aren't any major supply or distribution issues at this time, and cold weather typically creates a seasonal drag on fuel demand that should keep the state well below the $3 threshold.

"It would take a remarkable holiday surge or a major market action to get that high."

Coeur d'Alene's Lisa Miller, who filled up at a Coeur d'Alene station, said she's pleased to hear that prices aren't expected to rise drastically.

"The holidays can be a tough time on people and taxes are also coming due," she said.

"Of course, it wouldn't hurt my feelings if gas prices went in the other direction, either."

The Coeur d'Alene average is 7 cents lower than the state and Post Falls — both at $2.65 — but 2 cents higher than the national average of $2.56.

In the Sandpoint area, the average price for a gallon of gas is $2.71 — above both the state and national averages for a gallon of gas.

Conde said he doesn't foresee any major swings in gas prices in the near future.

"In the short term, Thanksgiving travel projections and an upcoming OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) meeting on Nov. 30 could apply more upward pressure on the national and state levels," he said. "After the holiday, and barring any additional production cut agreements by OPEC, national and Idaho prices could resume the pattern of seasonal decline."

AAA Idaho projects 265,000 Idahoans — a 3.3 percent increase from last year — will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holiday between Wednesday and Sunday with 236,000 opting to travel by automobile.

Nationally, another year of low unemployment and high consumer confidence will motivate an estimated 50.9 million Americans, the most since 2005, to hit the road or take to the air, according to AAA.

"When consumer confidence is high, more people are willing to travel, even if it means taking on debt," Conde said.

"Nationwide, travel demand is surprisingly strong this fall, which is reducing fuel inventory and putting upward pressure on gas prices.

"Although some people may adjust food expenses or other line items in their travel budget, we don't expect fuel prices to stop people from visiting friends and family this Thanksgiving."

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